What Will You Do This Summer?

The end of the school year means so many things for so many people.  For many teachers and students it means a short break from the day to day challenges educators face each day and believe me, a break IS necessary. Breaks allow for us to rest but there is also research to back up that when our brains are at rest is when they are most creative. This cognitive miracle is a great reason to remember why it is important to take a break, then exercise that cranium this summer!

Here are some suggestions on how to rest but also how to energize, re-connect, and feel great about the next school year.

  1. Join a book study group. This can be done on Twitter or at your local library (yes – they still exist.) Talking to others about a common book is a great way to broaden your horizons.  Try a new education book or a fiction book.  Either way, you are bound to relax and learn something new.  My favorite new read is  The Path to Serendipity by Allyson Apsey found here:   https://www.amazon.com/Path-Serendipity-Discover-Gifts-Journey/dp/1946444715
  2. Get some exercise. We all know that exercise is good for us but sometimes it is hard to find the time to do it. They say it only takes 21 days to start a new habit and I believe that so why not start now?
  3. Get some fresh air. This can be talking a walk, getting out on a boat, or hiking, camping, or just sitting in your yard or on your front porch. Taking the time to acknowledge that our bodies (and minds) need time and space to heal, regroup, then grow are essential.
  4. Try something new.  This can be just about ANYTHING! Are you a thrill seeker? Try something adventurous. If not, try something else. Croqueting, knitting, painting, gardening…you name it!  Remember that almost any activity (including meditation) calls for a certain level of cognitive engagement. Cognitive engagement is necessary for the brain to reset but to also grow. It is like the old saying, “Use it or lose it”. The more our brains are working (efficiently and effectively) the better the outcome.
  5. Play with your pets. This may seem silly to some of you but research indicates the joy of interacting with animals produces endorphins. This is why so many hospitals and nursing homes have therapy dogs or other similar animal volunteers come visit.
  6. Draw or Sing. It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw OR sing. Just do it! You can sing in the shower ’til your hearts content or do it in a more formal setting. Take some singing or drawing lessons. Many teachers will offer a first lesson free option to see if you are truly interested. Why not treat yourself to a half hour a week of learning about music or art? These creative niches allow the brain to be creative, productive, and relaxed all at the same time.
  7. Go camping. Talk about connecting with the outdoors? This is the way to go. It is always a good opportunity to “unplug”. My family and I camp in a tent nearly every year. There are beautiful, affordable sites all around the country. Families and friends begin to value the art of conversation, starting and maintaining a campfire for warmth and cooking, and listening to the sounds of nature. Camping is also a great way to be at peace when life throws you curveballs.
  8. Learn about SEL (Social Emotional Learning) If there is one thing you do this summer in regards to getting ready for the 18-19 school year, consider learning about Social Emotional Learning and trauma informed schools.  Although the terms have two slightly different meanings, any school that is trauma informed is also likely equipped to deal with most of the social emotional needs of students. In my opinion, this is the biggest shift in education we have seen in a long time and the research (and strategies and support available) are voluminous. I began learning about SEL a few years ago and began applying it in my district where we have seen tremendous results.
  9. Volunteer. If you have some spare time this summer, consider volunteering. Remember that doing positive things for other people makes US feel good too.

Summer is a great time to learn new things, reconnect with old friends, and prepare for the fall. It is essential that our minds and bodies have a break to re-charge. This is evidenced during the school year when Saturday and Sunday are usually our days of rest. When you think of what to do this summer, consider the need for “brain breaks” as well as stimulation of new knowledge. I know your brain will thank you!

Grant Funding, Finance, and Self-Funding Programs

 

I am so pleased and excited to be featured in this publication. Check out my latest work on blogreign.com.  Here is the link…

http://blogreign.com/karen-wood-superintendent/

Although finance is one of the most challenging areas for school leaders, having knowledge is just the beginning.  After nearly ten years as a Superintendent of Schools, I understand grant funding at the local, state, and national levels.  Experience goes a long way too but having a Chief Financial Officer or Business Administrator is equally as important.

At times in my district we have had to reduce spending or re-allocate funding, we have never “cut” anything.  This is tremendously important when providing necessary programs for students and even more crucial when it comes to retaining qualified staff. The practices we’ve established over the last seven years have sustained staff, provided necessary professional development, and maintained and implemented outstanding programs for students.

I have even been able to implement two very successful self-funding programs in Barnegat. Not only does our Early Learning Center provide for the care of very young children (ages six month of age to six years of age), but this program is completely self-funded. The salaries of all employees, including the Coordinator and all care givers, supplies, and needs are funded by tuition. However this service also provides necessary care for many families in Barnegat and employs many residents as well. It is an affordable day care in Barnegat run by caring individuals at no cost to the district. The location of our facility is unique as well because it allows Barnegat families their first foray into our public schools.

The other self-funding program is our Before and After Care program. This program began because our families had a need for affordable after care. When this program began, nearly five years ago we had approximately 40 students enrolled at one school site (that September). By December of the same year we had close to 100 students.  By the end of the school year we opened before and after care centers in all of our elementary schools. We now have over 400 students enrolled in before and after care. That number exceeds the total enrolled population for one of the elementary schools in our district in Barnegat.

Creating self-funding programs is just one way to be skillful at finance. We are also lucky to be the recipients of a large grant from RWJ Barnabas Health. They provided us with a $500,000 grant over five years that includes a full time prevention specialist in one of our schools, the TALK program, the DART Youth Prevention Program and a unique Med Sci Academy at Barnegat High School.

I am very proud of the accomplishments of our district under my leadership. Passing a tax burden on to tax payers is something that school administrators should work to avoid.  Although funding for programs is necessary, there are many ways to do so that reduce the strain placed on families and community members who are already struggling or on a fixed income.

No Wonder I’m Happiest When I’m Creative…

Many of you know that my blog posts are often inspired by articles, books, stories,  lessons from within a classroom or a recent experience I have had. This blog is no different.  As I was perusing Twitter, I found this article posted by Eric Sheninger.

https://flipboard.com/@flipboard/-robin-williams-did-this-1-thing-to-unlo/f-760fbfae2d%2Finc.com

It seems there is scientific research to support that we are most creative when we turn off our self-monitoring brain during the creative process.  In the article, one of the most fascinating bits of research shared was having jazz musicians or rappers perform or create original riffs while being monitored by an MRI machine.  The results are as you would expect.  Self-monitoring brain off = creativity ON.

 

 

The last two years have been like a roller coaster ride for me. There have been twists and turns, highs and lows, and heart-wrenching drops.  I am, however, a musician and a creative person by nature.  “Creation” for me, means performing, practicing, improvising, writing, painting, learning something new, or DIY. The creative process is different for all people but the most interesting thing is that during the times I am creating I also feel happy, energized, enthusiastic, passionate, and excited. But I also feel like I am productive and that my ideas or creations have worth.  That, of course improves self-esteem, self-worth, and self -image. What an amazing cylce!

You know what I am going to say.  What about for our students??? How can we foster creativity in our classrooms so that children feel valued?

  1. Give students a choice. Nothing says, “I respect you” more than giving students an option.
  2. Create spaces that support creativity. These can be stations or centers. Maybe they are artistic corners or spaces on the floor where children can write, color, or think.
  3. Ask children what they want to learn about, how they would like to learn it or what their interests are.  I get it. We all have to teach a viable curriculum in our classrooms but maybe if we adjust how we teach the content, we can allow for creativity with our students.
  4. Promote growth and achievement in soft skills. This means reinforcing collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and when students try something more than once (and listen to feedback and improve.) These skills are essential and will be beneficial to them for years to come.
  5. Celebrate! When things are going well, tell them and tell their parents. No one loves to celebrate more than children and parents bask in the attention of a call home from school, celebrating a child’s success!

When I reflect on my most productive times and the times I was at the absolute top of my game, it was when I was creative.  As I became more constricted by those around me, I was less creative, less happy, less productive, and in some cases down right miserable. I know, now, that I cannot let others impact my creativity, for by doing so I let them impact my mindset.

Practice Kindness

 

 

Today I am choosing to write about how our actions, both big and small, have a lasting impact on those around us.

I have always been blessed to work with some amazing people.  One of the teachers in my district, Mrs. O’Neil shared a beautiful lesson in kindness.  She and a colleague who both teach fifth grade  decided that it was time to put aside math and writing for a moment and teach students about what it means to be kind.

In order to fully understand the magnitude of the lesson and its impact you will need to read her newsletter.  The link is here for you….

https://www.smore.com/c7539

Please take a minute to review the lesson.  It truly is extraordinary.  Lessons like this CAN and SHOULD be used in our schools.  They are essential. This post is deeply connected to the content Mrs. O’Neil presented in her newsletter.

When is it time to prioritize kindness?

Why should kindness matter above math or writing?

How can we embed kindness into our daily lessons?

What can we do to make the world a better place?

The four questions above are not simple ones, nor do I feel they can be answered in one blog.  Especially by me.  I am, after all, one person.  But I truly believe that one person can make a difference.  The reality is that KINDNESS MATTERS!  The other reality in today’s classrooms is that children feel overwhelmed, worried, anxious, lonely, and afraid like never before.  We must do everything in our power to help our struggling students – our students who struggle emotionally.

Remember this? Not only was Maslow right on with his work, but this graphic gives examples so that you may better understand my point. Look carefully.  I believe that children – not all children but many children suffer terribly due to not having the bottom parts of the pyramid fulfilled successfully.  If children do not have food or warmth at home, they will never move up the pyramid in their emotional or cognitive ability levels. This is where too many people (in my opinion) have become critical of thy neighbor. Too many people, in my opinion, look the other way and chose not to get involved.  They chose not to donate their coats so that children can have warmth or assist and neighbor who is hungry. People chose to look the other way during bullying or uncomfortable situations. There is evidence all around us of those who can criticize but not mobilize. Children are our most precious asset so we do we so often look the other way?

 

The emotional needs of children cannot be met in one fell swoop. It takes an army. It takes a nation. It takes people caring for one another through kindness and the ability to put another person’s needs ahead of their own.

What can and will we do to change the trajectory of our nation’s children?

Can we provide food and shelter for all of them? Can we provide safe schools, secure classrooms and no more fear? Can we create a sense of belonging and love on our district campuses? Can there be respect for one another where we are proud of the achievements of others, even if it means putting others before ourselves? Can there be fulfillment for all of us, knowing we have done everything we can to support each other?

I think we can. Let’s start by practicing kindness.

Dedicated to Teachers…

 

This post is dedicated to teachers everywhere who work tirelessly to reach our students everyday.

I am from New Jersey.  If you are from New Jersey, you know that we have a new Governor.  For me, the jury is out on what will happen in our state on all fronts. But this post is not about politics.  It’s about teaching.

I was inspired to write because I love teaching, education, and watching students grow and learn everyday.  Education is my passion. But in my opinion, our previous Governor hurt the teaching profession.  In 2015 he said that teachers unions are “the single most destructive force in education.”  In 2016, he said that teachers unions were “New Jerseys version of the Corleones”.  In 2017, he said ““All too often this system is built for the comfort of adults: how much money they want to make, what kind of benefits they want to work, or don’t work.”  Although I know these comments were pointed at unions, they vilified teachers and damaged the profession that I love so much.

Here are the things that most people forget about teaching:

  1. Teachers must get their bodies on the schedule they have been assigned. They are unable to use the bathroom or take a break, other than when it is scheduled into their day.
  2. Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time preparing their lessons. This means they don’t only work from “8 to 3”. This means they spend time researching, reviewing, prepping and revising BEFORE they even meet with their students.
  3. Teachers must engage every child. What if each time someone walked into your store and didn’t purchase something, it counted against you? Engagement of every student, every day is easier than it sounds. Hopefully by the end of this post, you’ll realize why.
  4. Teachers spend lots of time learning to get better. This is a cause of frustration for some on the fiscal end but it is essential.  Imagine if Fortune 500 companies or big businesses and industries decided it was “too costly” to invest in their brand, invest in their customer service, invest in the skills of their employees? That concept has little merit outside of education. Yet in the education sector, professional development funding is often scrutinized.
  5. Teachers spend time outside of class focussed on student growth. They grade papers. They analyze student responses and individualize assessments so that every student can learn and so that proper differentiation is provided.  They learn new strategies and implement them, tweaking and revising along the way, until they have managed to hold the attention of a challenging class and get to the content of the standards they are responsible for.
  6. They go to cross country meets and football games and concerts to support students who need it.  They know that if a student sees a teacher OUTSIDE the classroom, that students will work harder.  Reaching a child in the classroom sometimes means doing things outside the class to support their students.
  7. Teachers must teach EVERY child on their roster.  Children arrive:
    1. hungry
    2. tired
    3. depressed
    4. excited
    5. with ADHD
    6. with learning disabilities
    7. as gifted students
    8. with anxiety
    9. angry
    10. from divorced families
    11. from homes facing addiction
    12. from homes with wealth
    13. disinterested
    14. overwhelmed
    15. scared
    16. with strong supports for education at home
    17. with no supports for education at home

….and the list goes on and on….

Teaching can be like performing for an unwilling audience.  Have you ever had one of those days where you didn’t feel like engaging with your colleagues or making extra calls to boost sales? Maybe you didn’t feel up to showing just one more home to a prospective buyer.  Imagine having twenty-five or so students who didn’t quite feel like learning.

But here is what GREAT teachers do:

SMILE

They smile A LOT!  Smiling matters! Think about it.  When someone smiles at you, the natural tendency is to smile back. Try it. Smile at a total stranger. Do they smile back or turn away? Go a step further. Smile and say, “How are you?” or “Have a great day.” Teachers go a step further. They smile and they say, “I’m so happy you are here today!” and they mean it!

PRAISE

They praise their students and find joy in every minor victory or improvement. This can mean a small comment on the side to a shy student or an absolute focus on a success complete with music, certificates, and a call home. Let’s face it, the best praise is the one that is shared.

GO THE EXTRA MILE

They go the extra mile to reach a student, staying up late, attending free professional development or registering for workshops on their own to implement new strategies. They try over and over again to reach a student.

My son is not a reader.  He is a good student. He loves school. He is very social and I think he is liked by his peers.  For years, I have been trying to get him to read. He came home Wednesday and said, “Mom, can you get me this book?”  I nearly fell off my chair.  I was overjoyed! As an avid reader, I was DYING for my son to discover the joy of a good book. Then, “They’re having a book fair at school and I really want to buy a few books.  Can I have some money?” Of course, I thought! Thursday night, after the book fair, Friday morning before school began, and yesterday, I saw my son reading quietly. He chose the comfort of an exciting story with characters he could relate to over YouTube or chatting with his friends.

His teacher DID NOT stop until she inspired my son to read.  I will forever be grateful for her dedication in going the extra mile.

CREATIVE

They are creative. They comb Pinterest or pester colleagues to find ways to excite their students.

CELEBRATE

They CELEBRATE! They get on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or use Remind to share their amazing successes with families in their community. The call home to share successes with parents. They tell the school Principal so that he/she can make an announcement, provide a sticker, or a free treat.

PROUD

They are proud of the profession they chose no matter what anyone says. They inspire others to become teachers, to recognize teaching and learning in any form. They inspire their students and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

GRATEFUL

They are grateful for the ability to work in the most amazing profession. The one where we get to influence the future and support the learning needs of the next generation!

Don’t forget to thank a teacher. I know I will.

~Karen Wood

Practice Football or Practice Joy? Why not Both?

Tonight nearly 100 million people will be watching the Super Bowl.  100 million viewers is not a record but it is almost unfathomable to me.  It is exciting too!  How nervous must everyone be?  Football players, coaches, game officials, Justin Timberlake, dancers and musicians, cameramen, commentators, and ticket takers.  The musician side of me considers the insane magnitude of “putting on a show” of this size.  But as a lifelong performer, it makes me tingle with excitement!

Practice makes perfect.  I don’t care what it is.  Here is a list of what we do when we practice perfectly (or as close to perfection) each time:

  1. Practice reinforces a skill.
  2. Practice makes you stronger, faster, more skilled at what you are working towards.
  3. Practice lets you reflect on what you need to improve.
  4. Practice can be broken down to micro-moments to focus in on one thing with absolute precision.
  5. Practice builds character.
  6. Practice builds stamina.
  7. Practice creates discipline.
  8. Practicing something you LOVE is FUN!

When you’ve practiced and seen growth or improvement, the results are amazing. In the Super Bowl (or any other high level athletic competition) you will see a high level of skill and a fierce competition based on who practiced more.  Did one team out practice the other in regards to defense? Or offense? Running the ball? Completing passes? You get the idea.

What if we practiced JOY like we practice other things?

This video is completely accurate.  Did you know that a special type of brain tissue called myelin actually helps us acquire and master skills? And that children are like myelin generating machines? This enables them to absorb information more rapidly than adults.

Why Practice Actually Makes Perfect: How to Rewire Your Brain for Better Performance

Children learn quickly. They learn how to catch a well thrown spiral pass. They learn how to play a scale on a musical instrument. They learn how to be kind to others. They learn how to cook. They learn how to love. They learn how to ride a bike.  They learn how to be of good character and go through this life with integrity, joy, and love….but only if we teach it and model it every day.

~Karen Wood

#wmnleadedu Challenge

This weekend, a wonderful group to which I belong (#wmnleadedu) on Voxer and Twitter asked that each of us locate a favorite article or quote on leadership and tag it on Twitter.  I came across an article that Sir Ken Robinson  (http://http://sirkenrobinson.com/) shared and was totally inspired by it.

I am a big fan of doing anything and everything to help kids. This has led me to out of the box thinking and applications throughout my career.  I once worked with a physical education teacher who implemented math in his classroom.  He would implement simple yet effective things like having kids count their jumping jacks by fives, reinforcing multiplication during warm-ups. I worked with a History teacher who dressed in American Revolution period clothing when it was time to teach that unit or stand on the desk when delivering other important messages.  I worked with a spanish teacher who had students sing Holiday carols in spanish.

More recently, we have teachers who have taken innovation to a whole new level by requesting students create the perfect assignment, or create something that will assist the hearing impaired or those who have lost their vision. We have teachers pushing students’ creativity to the limits. There are hundreds, even thousands of examples.

In this article, you’ll see the magic that has occurred in Bradford. This school was under-performing until the music coordinator and head teacher decided to make learning fun again. Their strategies, are outlined here:

Music in Schools Article from The Guardian

They not only improved school culture, they improved scores in content areas as well.  Did you know that arts students are 55% more likely to attend a post-secondary school than those who were not involved in the arts?

We cannot ignore these statistics any longer.  Integration of the arts matters and it goes seamlessly with technology integration, design thinking, innovation, social emotional learning, and trauma informed schools.

Everything I am today can be attributed to my involvement and love for the arts. For more information or to dialogue about this further, I’d love to hear from you at kwood4971@gmail.com. Let’s start a movement of happy, engaged students in schools with a propensity to learn and grow like never before!

~Karen Wood

 

#LeanIn

Let me tell you about the most amazing, life-changing book I have read recently.  This book is written with the intent of supporting female leaders everywhere, however if you are a courageous man, you, too can make a difference.

Lean In was written by Sheryl Sandberg who is the COO of Facebook. I was impressed by both her credentials and candor.  The book is referenced and annotated throughout, citing important data and research on this topic. I was so pleased to see that the ideas, thoughts, and feelings I have had as a female leader were legitimate. These were not just “how I felt” but backed by data. Amazing…

Her Ted Talk is about fifteen minutes in length and worth every minute.

https://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders#t-678856

Here are three of the items I have taken away from Lean In:

Sit at the Table

Sandberg talks about the necessity for women to sit at the table.  When I was a brand new vice principal, my Principal was holding a cabinet meeting, comprised of teachers and administrators. She intentionally did not sit, waiting to see who would sit where. Teachers scurried for seats. I noticed there were only a few seats left so I sat at the table.  Knowing no teachers, I did not sit near anyone I knew as this was my first meeting. Then I realized I had chosen the “head” of the table!  You know the seat…the one where the LEADER sits. I was mortified but it was too late to get up and move.  Just then, my Principal began the meeting. The first thing she did was commend me for “sitting at the head of the table.” Long before Sandberg’s book was published, I had the opportunity to work for a woman I consider my mentor. She “administratively raised me” and realized, more than two decades ago, how important it was for women to sit at the table.

Make your Partner a True Partner 

This portion of Sandberg’s advice is important and relevant for both men and women who work or choose to stay home and raise children. The most compelling proof for me is shared in both the Ted talk and the book.  To think that a home where chores, work, and child-rearing are shared equally have half the divorce rate is astounding! This reminded me of a recent article I read…

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-angry-therapist/201706/the-most-critical-factor-in-any-relationship

I find this research essential in building strong relationships, both at home and at work. There will be a follow-up blog on this topic, I can assure you.

Don’t Leave Before you Leave

Sandberg discusses why it’s important for women to keep their feet firmly planted on the gas pedal before leaving for childbirth.  She has found that many women decide that their career will have to be derailed to have children long before it is time to make that decision. I am taking this advice in a different way considering my current position. My contract will expire on June 30, 2018. You can bet that my foot will be firmly planted on that gas pedal until June 30.  I will not “leave before I leave”.

My deepest gratitude to Sheryl Sandberg for not only being a role model for women everywhere but for writing a “user’s guide” so that women can collaborate, reflect, and own their future.  This book has inspired me to establish a newly formed Women in Leadership group in my county.  More to come…

Barnabas Health Partnership is Rewarding and Motivational

 

In my last post, I wrote about an ongoing partnership between the Barnegat Schools and Barnabas Health, Community Medical Center.  For more than two years we have enjoyed a unique partnership at a limited cost to the district.

It all started about three years ago when I was reading an article in Forbes magazine.  It indicated that in the next ten years there would be job growth in certain industries.  As you may have guessed, the first area of projected growth was technology.  The second area of growth was in the medical sciences.  I was curious about the med-sci piece so I began to gather some data.

We knew that there was a nearby high school who had a similar program so we decided to take a visit.  Check out this link to see the academy programs offered in Neptune: https://www.neptuneschools.org/Page/1764 

It was impressive to see what high school students were being exposed to. They had a lab set up in a classroom with very high tech equipment as well as the ability to work with some very credentialed medical professionals.

I wanted the same for our students in Barnegat.  I began making phone calls to as many medical facilities as I could in our area.  I received many “no” calls to my questions. Most times I couldn’t get in touch with people at the executive level who make important decisions.  In addition, businesses were not necessarily seeing the return on investment for them.

Eventually I received a call from the Vice President of Prevention for Barnabas Health, Community Medical Center.  She was actually calling regarding prevention.  They were looking to work with a school district who was in need of supportive services for prevention and wellness.  If you had the opportunity to read my last blog, you know that we were certainly in need of support in that area.  While we were on the phone, in our very first conversation, I pitched my idea. My colleague thought is was worth bringing to the hospital board and even agreed to set up the meeting.

The time came for my team to present our idea to the hospital CEO, several Vice Presidents of different departments and even a head of surgery!  I was nervous.  What I thought was going to be a conversation ended with brainstorming.  Both sides could see benefits and we were ready to start planning.

The program has been in effect for two years now and although we have made some changes, the benefits are tremendous for our students. Approximately once a month a cohort of high school students, selected through a criteria based process, travel to the hospital.  The cost of the bus is funded by the school district. Our students participate in hands-on experiences led by medical professionals.  Topics are planned and arranged collaboratively between a Med-Sci Collaborative advisor (who receives a stipend for his/her time and work) and hospital officials.  Students have been exposed to everything from perioperative services, to x-ray technicians, to central sterilization. The volunteers from the hospital provide a brief lecture-style lesson, followed by a hands-on experience. They even provide dinner for our students.  The only cost to the district is transporting students (about once per month) and an annual stipend for a teacher to coordinate the program with the hospital.

In the first year of the program, our students volunteered time at the hospital. The Vice President of the hospital has presented graduation certificates of completion and has done so both at the hospital but also at our Board of Education meeting in the spring. Students are now being accepted to colleges with a unique learning experience on their applications. Through this experience, some students have decided what field of medicine they would like to study or whether or not they are going to pursue medicine or another field all together.

In November, our students had the opportunity to meet David Diehl   https://twitter.com/davediehl66?lang=en of the New York Giants who shared motivational words about grit, progress, and determination. Students reflected on his story about resilience and were inspired by his dedication and fortitude.

 

I am excited about the success of this program and am grateful for the opportunities this partnership has provided to our students. Hands-on learning can be exciting and rewarding. Deciding on a career path or being exposed to something you might love when in high school is truly a gift in itself.

~Karen Wood

Celebration for the Prevention and Wellness Coalition of Barnegat

 

 

I am proud and excited to share recent accolades for the Barnegat Schools and community where I serve as Superintendent.

About a year and a half ago, we were met with serious challenges. The local municipal alliance folded.  The township, for years had provided a municipal alliance which assisted in funding a variety of school programs. They helped offset the cost of Project Graduation which is a drug and alcohol free celebration for graduating seniors.  The municipal alliance also helped offset the cost of mentor-mentee programs such as school breakfasts and incentives. The mentor-mentee program is instrumental in partnering students with staff members who may need additional supports. Most times these supports are not necessarily academic in nature and the time together gives students an opportunity to connect with someone at school, ultimately motivating them to be more excited about attending school and getting invested in school culture.

When the funding was gone, we were faced with serious challenges.  Not only did the district need to determine how to fund certain programs, we had a population of families who needed supports that were no longer there.  Seeing a need, I reached out to Barnabas Health. They have been our partner for two years and have helped fund many programs in our school district. I inquired what could be done to help offset the increased costs and if there were programs available.  As luck would have it, if the district were interested in taking the lead on forming a local committee, we could apply for the drug free communities grant this spring.

I began researching what was necessary and brought the required twelve sectors together.  Shortly after forming the Prevention and Wellness Coalition of Barnegat, we were recognized as a “Town of Excellence” for making significant strides in prevention both in our community and schools.  For the full article, click here:  https://thesandpaper.villagesoup.com/p/barnabas-institute-honors-barnegat-for-excellence/1711462

It was gratifying to have our efforts recognized but better yet are the opportunities receiving the drug free communities grant may provide for us.  As we continue in our journey of prevention, it is exciting to know that small steps along the way, like forming a committee of dedicated, like-minded people, and being recognized for our efforts make the challenges worthwhile.  I know as I go to my next meeting, I will go proudly and excitedly as we prepare for grant submission with hope for what it will mean to our students and families.

Stay tuned for the results of our submission and remember that you can accomplish anything if you plan, remain intentional and commit to goals one step at a time.

~Karen Wood