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Self-Advocacy Club Recognized for Helping Students Overcome Life's Obstacles

TAP Into West Essex Staff

Friday, August 15, 2014 • 6:55am

WEST CALDWELL, NJ – The James Caldwell High School (JCHS) Advocacy Club in West Caldwell received a special honor as the Essex County recipient at the NJ State Board of Education recognition ceremony on May 22 in Trenton.

The JCHS Advocacy Club, advised by teachers Robin Keil and Melissa Hart, has worked with and for students, teaching them how to speak up 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. 

Keil, who has been working with the group for several years said, “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. Over time, these students build confidence and leadership skills necessary to be successful in and outside of school.”

To apply for the honor, the school district was required to provide a one-page profile describing the students or team and the reasons for their selection. The State Board of Education then selected up to ten students or student groups who have made significant contributions to their schools, communities or families.

Students at the ceremony ranged from elementary to high school age and were not limited to academic or athletic recognition. Honorees were formally recognized by the Commissioner and State Board of Education at the special recognition ceremony.

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, while 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 MacNamara, 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. They work on their speeches and plan activities 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.og/jchs.

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