Self-Advocacy Club helps students overcome life obstacles

James Caldwell High School Advocacy Club Selected to Represent Essex County at NJ State Board of Education Meeting

James Caldwell High School (JCHS) senior Josh Turbiak works with sixth grader Zeyad Elfatatry meet as part of the West Caldwell high school’s Advocacy Club’s mentoring program. The club was recognized as the Essex County recipient at the N.J. State Board of Education recognition ceremony held on May 22, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. for the work it does with and for students, teaching them how to advocate for themselves.
Christine Corliss
Posted

To apply for the honor, school districts provide a one-page profile describing the students or teams and the reasons for their selection. The State Board of Education then selects up to ten of the students or student groups who have made significant contributions to their schools, communities or families. The students or student groups are from elementary, middle or high schools, and the achievements recognized are not limited to academics or athletic recognition. Selected students are formally honored by the Commissioner and State Board of Education at the special recognition ceremony.

All students face challenges, but some have never learned to speak up for themselves. A group of students from James Caldwell High School (JCHS), West Caldwell, is hoping to change this, however, one student at a time. The JCHS Advocacy Club, advised by teachers Robin Keil and Melissa Hart, has worked with and for students, teaching them how to advocate for themselves. Most of the club members are students who face learning challenges, or students who are eager to learn to advocate on behalf of family members who face challenges. This year, the club received a special honor, being selected as the Essex County recipient at the N.J. State Board of Education recognition ceremony held on May 22, 2014, in Trenton, N.J.

To apply for the honor, school districts provide a one-page profile describing the students or teams and the reasons for their selection. The State Board of Education then selects up to ten of the students or student groups who have made significant contributions to their schools, communities or families. The students or student groups are from elementary, middle or high schools, and the achievements recognized are not limited to academics or athletic recognition. Selected students are formally honored by the Commissioner and State Board of Education at the special recognition ceremony.

Keil has been working with the group for several years. “We work with the club members, and the club members work with other students, to help them learn to identify their weaknesses and how to focus on their strengths, creating awareness of their strengths and weaknesses by advocating for themselves amongst their teachers, peers, and family members,” said Keil. “Over time, these students build confidence and leadership skills necessary to be successful in and outside of school.”

Accompanied by the executive county superintendent, local school officials, family and friends, the students were recognized for academic success as well as leadership qualities and volunteerism both at school and within their communities. The educators were recognized for outstanding professional achievements. Keil and Hart were joined at the ceremony by Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Heinegg and six of the club’s members, Evan Lamarca, Rachel McNamara, Brittany Setaro, Sarah Smith, Alexis Spina and Josh Turbiak.

Meeting regularly throughout the school year, the Advocacy Club gives students a platform to tell their story. These students meet regularly throughout the school year to work on their speeches and to plan activities to meet with students who, like them share their triumphs and tribulations when dealing with a learning disability.

The club also participates in a grant-funded, literacy-based, Student-to-Student Mentoring Program in which high school students are matched with students from the district’s elementary schools, acting as mentors to younger students who experience similar learning challenges.

Members from the Advocacy Club also attend the “Each One Teach One” conference at Millburn High School and the “Dare to Dream” Conference at Montclair State University each year, and have presented to the middle and high school faculty on learning disabilities.

“Our students represent our school as successful role models to both younger students and their peers,” said Keil. “By presenting their own personal stories, they gain confidence and improve their public speaking skills while creating awareness and inspiration. “

For more information on James Caldwell High School, visit www.cwcboe.org/jchs.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here