SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – At a board of education meeting Feb. 17, three current seventh graders attending South Plainfield Middle School (SPMS) were recognized for their winning submission in the 2019-2020 Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey (PDFNJ) annual statewide Middle School PSA Challenge. 

The Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey sponsors a contest every year for middle grade students to write, direct, edit, and produce a public service announcement. Last year, as sixth graders at Grant School, students Camilla Chavez, Ella Kloby, Giuliana Zazzara, working with guidance counselor Joretta Strayhorn, wrote and recorded the script entitled 'Cool Things' and, in June, their submission was chosen by PDFNJ as the winning entry. 

As the 2019-2020 winners, the girls not only earned bragging rights but also the opportunity to turn their script into a 30-second public service announcement that aired on cable stations across the tri-state area. The final rendition of the PSA, which advises youth to 'be a trendsetter' and 'say no drugs and alcohol,' can be viewed here

"These are special students. They are students who are doers," said Grant Principal Patrick Sarullo, who attended the meeting virtually, extending appreciation also to the guidance department and School Assistance Counselor Joretta Strayhorn for their efforts.. "…the commercial they submitted, that they made on their own under the guidance of Ms. Strayhorn, won. When they look back, these students will remember that, during a pandemic, they went on to film a commercial."

Sarullo added, "I can't tell you how proud I am of these [former] Grant students. This is something that no one thought could come out of such chaotic times. Great job girls, and great job Ms. Strayhorn and our guidance department."

"I would like to take a moment to offer my sincere congratulations to Camilla, Giuliana and Ella for winning the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey PSA contest. The girls worked tirelessly in an effort to encourage all young people to explore their options and to not make drugs their choice," said Strayhorn, adding, "It is imperative that each of you encourage each other to make choices that enhance your future not diminish it. Remember, we are our brother's keeper."

The PDFNJ 2020 Middle School PSA Challenge, sponsored by Bridges Networking Group, focuses on the understanding that peer-to-peer messages help children better cope with peer pressure when it comes to substance abuse or misuse. Through the program, New Jersey students in fifth through eighth grade are encouraged to write a script for a 30-second PSA with a substance use prevention message. Judging was based on the prevention message, peer-to-peer relatability, and the ability to produce into a video.

“It is inspiring to see the powerful messages these students created that encourage others to lead a healthy lifestyle free of drugs and alcohol,” said Angelo Valente, executive director for the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, in a June 2020 published report announcing the contest winners. “The peer-to-peer messages are an important way for middle school children to discuss and combat peer pressure that they may encounter when it comes to trying drugs or alcohol.”

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