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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    The Brickley Bowl at the Charlotte Avenue School in Nashua has begun for the tenth year in Jillian Brickley's class.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

‘Brickley Bowl’ highlights Super Bowl week for some Nashua fifth-graders

NASHUA – Fifth-graders Harley Ciardi and Nicole DePaolo walked with confidence to the front of the classroom at Charlotte Avenue Elementary School on Monday morning.

Their eyes moved slowly up and down with anticipation, as they watched teacher Jillian Brickley flip a saucer-sized coin in the air and catch it on the back of her left hand.

“It’s tails,” she said, nodding to Harley, who won the toss for the boys.

His teammates cheered and slapped high-fives in the corner: winning the coin-flip meant they got to represent the New England Patriots, while the girls had to play as the New York Giants.

The excitement marked the start of the 10th annual Brickley Bowl, a week-long classroom competition Brickley organizes for her students each year before the Super Bowl. On Sunday, the Patriots will play the Giants for the championship in Super Bowl XLVI.

The Brickley Bowl is more than a game, the Nashua teacher said, it’s also a fun learning experience predicated on teamwork.

“They recognize one another’s strengths when they work together,” she said. “Kids that might not normally get recognized, get recognized. It teaches teamwork and adds that camaraderie piece. They learn something about each other.”

The Brickley Bowl doesn’t change anything about the school day, she said. She goes through all the daily subjects as usual, and occasionally incorporates a little football – matching up NFL teams with their cities is geography, identifying Heisman Trophy winners is classification and calculating football scores is math.

The boys and girls teams complete the work individually and in teams and earn yards for answering questions correctly. As the week goes on, they can move down the field and score touchdowns or move backward if Brickley calls the students for penalties.

Poor sportsmanship is “roughing.” Anyone caught out of line after lunch is “off sides.” Lollygagging in class to set up their work is “delay of game.” Forgetting to raise your hand before speaking is a “stiff arm,” and talking over someone is “blocking.”

Brickley holds a clipboard throughout the day, jotting down notes and observations about the kids. Good marks for team spirit or sportsmanship could earn a student one of the daily MVP awards, while bad notes could mean penalties and a loss of yardage.

She won’t hesitate to throw the yellow flag if a student misbehaves, but the kids are often too caught up in the game to fool around.

“So many kids have a great time with it,” she said. “If I run into a former student this time of year, they’re always asking about it,” she said. “They say, ‘Are you doing the Brickley Bowl?’ or ‘Who won this year?’”

“At the end of the week, it’s really cool; we’ve really come together. I have a blast with it.”

Brickley is an avid sports fan and the passion blends into her teaching.

For the Brickley Bowl, her classroom is decked in sports gear, highlighted by a large football display at the front of the room. There’s yellow PVC piping in the shape of field-goal uprights and a small bucket of mini footballs to be given out as prizes. There are also red, white and blue streamers hanging from the ceiling, with construction-paper cutouts in the shape of footballs, spelling out “Patriots vs. Giants” on the back wall.

She wants to add to her students’ learning experience, so that they can associate school with something fun.

“I feel like part of a child’s experience to come to school is them looking forward to it and wanting to come and participate,” she said. “Hopefully, if I can get them starting to like that learning process now, that will carry on when the work’s just going to get harder. They’re going to have to be a stronger student, so I feel like if they’re able to enjoy that process now, it’ll just keep them going through middle school and high school.”

Brickley has been recognized for her outstanding teaching methods. In 2010, she was named a recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award, an honor that came with a $25,000 check to do with as she pleased. She was one of only 55 teachers across the country to win the award that year.

The students are battling this week for Brickley’s own Lombardi Trophy, made out of aluminum foil and cardboard. On top, the trophy bears the names of past champions. The boys have won six titles to the girls’ three, but Brickley challenged the “Giants” group to break that streak this year.

“It’s up to you to come together as a team,” she said to the girls Monday.

Moments later, a familiar blend of “Jock Jams” and rock tunes filled the room. Kids moved to the beat and whispered answers to each other, smiling and laughing but attentive. When the song fades, Brickley announced that time was up.

The boys finished their football vocabulary sheet in about half the allotted time, while the girls used every second of the two minutes allowed. Both sides answered all 20 questions right – matching up definitions for football words like “gridiron” or “fumble” – but student Nicole DePaolo acknowledged that her team had a little tougher time with it.

Nicole and the girls said they were looking forward to class for the rest of the week. Nicole even made a bold prediction about the outcome.

“We’re going to win it,” she said.

Harley Ciardi shook his head with a wry smile.

“I don’t think they’re going to win,” he said. “We are.”

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or