Dive-In Movie entertains, helps those in need in Harrison

Several years ago, when Hudson County Teacher of the Year Kimberley Madalena thought about activities that her Student Council could host at Washington Middle School in Harrison, she wanted to make sure that they not only utilized all areas of the building, but that they continued to give back to a community that gives so much to the students.  

They had already hosted themed dances in the gymnasium which included a Haunted Hallway for Halloween, a marriage chapel for the Valentine’s Dance, and cultural, luaus, decades, and western themes for their end of the year dances. Each year, the group hosted movie nights in the auditorium where they collect new toys for families in need during the holiday season and even hosted an audience participation movie night complete with prop bags for each attendant. In addition, they’ve hosted celebratory parties in the cafeteria and outdoor courtyard areas, but the school’s pool had never been used for an evening function. The pool is heated and utilized for physical education classes daily at Washington Middle School. Student Council members polled their homeroom classes to see if there would be any interest in coming back in the evening to swim and the results were remarkably positive.  

Washington Middle School students in Harrison enjoy the dive-in movie.

Now, it would have been easy to just host a swim night, but the group of 6th through 8th-grade students, along with Mrs. Madalena, as their advisor, came up with the concept of hosting a movie night in the pool. The catchy name of Dive-In Theater came to be and year after year the students join the WMS Student Council for two hours in the evening, two times per year, to view a movie while they swim. There is never an admission fee to get into the event, but the Student Council requests that students give back to their community through donations of non-perishable items and canned goods. The students of Washington Middle School never disappoint with their ability to help others. This year was no different, as they filled an entire bin with non-perishable food items. These items are then taken to the Holy Cross Food Pantry which works in conjunction with the Town of Harrison to provide food to those in need.  

When creating each event, Mrs. Madalena believes in encouraging the student voice. Student Council members are asked to think about movies that students might enjoy viewing. They talk about this in their homeroom classes and then come back to the Student Council meeting with ideas. The students share movie ideas and then vote on the titles. Most times, the movie is shark or water-related because the students love swimming in the water and seeing a giant shark swimming alongside them.  

Students swim safely with the help of the school’s physical education teachers and Harrison High School students who are certified lifeguards. The movie is projected using a laptop and projector. It is displayed on one of the walls in the 3 foot depth area of the pool and students are able to float around and watch the movie or swim and play many of the pool games. A large speaker is also in the pool area to project the movie sound for all to hear. Students can opt to spend time in the deeper water, but they must have passed the deep-water swimming test in a physical education class in order to be on that side of the pool.  

Students usually select a water-themed movie for their dive-in movie nights.

Although the WMS Student Council was unable to host a Dive-In Theater since November 2019 due to the Covid pandemic, the November 2021 Dive-In Theater was the best-attended event in the history of Dive-In Theaters at the school. Safety protocols were put into place to ensure that all students and staff were safe such as masks on while not swimming, social distancing, and staggering the number of students in the locker rooms at any time.  

Mrs. Madalena could not be prouder of how well behaved the students were at the event and she believes that children really want to be out socializing again after being home for so long.  “I think we all realize how quickly things can change in our lives and at school so moments like this have become even more important to the students and staff.”  Mrs. Madalena is also joined by staff members and administrators who volunteer their time to chaperone the event. This year, they even had a staff member dress up as a shark to chaperone! She attributes the success of events like this and others to the great school climate that they have in her building.  

And when asked about her favorite memory of the event, 8th grade Student Council member Samantha Mira said, “I did have a lot of fun swimming and watching the movie in the pool with my friend, but the best part of this whole experience was knowing we donated all that food to the Holy Cross Food Pantry, which is located a few blocks away from our school. To see what we did as a school to help families in need was something I will never forget.”