Newark high school winner of Congressional Art Competition will have work displayed in U.S. Capitol

art cardCongressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. held an awards reception Monday afternoon at the Newark Museum to recognize the winners of the 2016 Congressional Art Competition for New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District.

The overall winner out of 60 pieces of art submitted from 16 high schools in New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District was Newark’s own Lawrence Armour, of Arts High School.

“I am always impressed by the creative pieces our local students submit and look forwarding to sharing them with our community and the entire country,” said Payne, Jr., according to a statement. “This year was no exception.”

Congressmen Donald Payne, Jr. pictured with art contest winner and Arts High School student

Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. pictured with art contest winner and Arts High School student

The annual nationwide contest is sponsored by the Congressional Institute in order for members of the U.S. Congress to recognize and encourage the artistic talent of their constituents. Since the Congressional Art Competition began in 1982, over 650,000 high school students have participated.

Armour’s winning submission, entitled “Digital Arts,” will be displayed for one year at the U.S. Capitol for Members of Congress, staff, and visitors to see. In June, Armour will have the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in a national ceremony with other winners from around the country.

The second- and third-place winners in the district were Shawna Reid, from Jersey City Arts High School, for her submission, “Paralysis,” and Jaleel Kerr, from East Orange Campus High School, for his submission, “Seven Deadly Sins.”

Award reception images via Flickr.

Habitat for Humanity Newark to hold its first-ever college fair Saturday, April 9

As a part of its Neighborhood Revitalization Program, Habitat for Humanity Newark will host its first-ever college fair on Saturday, April 9 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at People’s Preparatory Charter School, 321 Bergen St. in Newark.

The event is free; high school students and their parents are encouraged to attend.

Many area schools, universities and social service agencies will be present, including Rutgers University -Newark, Saint Peter’s University, Berkeley College, Essex County College, University of Phoenix, New Jersey City University, Pillar College, Hudson County Community College, and New Jersey Institute of Technology, among many others.

Students are encouraged to come out to meet representatives, ask questions about financial aid and scholarships, and learn about services available from community organizations.

As a Neighborhood Revitalization affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, Habitat Newark says it has been making incredible strides to improve conditions and build community in host neighborhoods. Habitat Newark is now working with about 75 partner families who reside in the West and Central Wards between Springfield and South Orange Avenues and Bergen and South 20th Streets.

Adult students are also welcome to attend. Refreshments will be served. For more information, please contact Habitat Newark at 973-624-3330 x103.

First Lady’s visit highlights Newark school’s innovative food program

education cardMichelle Obama paid a visit to Philip’s Academy Charter School on Central Avenue in Newark yesterday as part of her American Garden tour, which is taking her from city to city to highlight community and school-based gardens around the country. She planted a vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House in 2009 to start a national conversation about health and wellness.

Mrs. Obama first toured the school’s 4,500 square foot garden rooftop. Then she visited its cafeteria to see the Aerofarms hydroponic indoor growing lab and enjoy a light sit down meal with about a half dozen students. The “Today” show’s Al Roker joined students at an adjacent table.

Mrs. Obama made conversation with her young dining companions, asking them about their favorite foods, hearing details about their experience at the school, and answering their questions in turn. (What we learned: squash is her favorite soup, Mexican her favorite cuisine, and pizza her all-time favorite dish.)

While the encounter will likely become a standout memory for the students who participated, Mrs. Obama’s visit also highlighted the success of EcoSpaces, Philip’s Academy’s food-based curriculum, whose rising profile warranted her visit in the first place.

“[The EcoSpaces] program is what brings a lot of students and families to the school,” said Dale Anglin, who chairs the school’s board of trustees, and whose son attended the school. “It’s what the school is known for, and it’s what the kids like,” she continued.

EcoSpaces leverages hands-on learning techniques and features instruction in gardening — including advanced gardening techniques involving hydroponics — and cooking. That instruction anchors much of the Philip’s Academy curriculum and ethos.

The school’s rooftop garden supports its teaching kitchen, where students learn about food chemistry by preparing, serving and eating it. Meals are eaten family style at circular tables in the school’s cafeteria to facilitate positive interaction. Philip’s Academy’s farm stand helps teach the students business fundamentals and connects the school and curriculum to their families. And the menus themselves are specially developed onsite and meant to expand students’ palates and connect them with what produce is in season.

philips student

The curriculum also encourages an essential lost art, said Frank Mentesena, director of the EcoSpaces program. A lot of people are “not sure what it takes to get food from the ground,” he said, referring to the fact that in a world of big agriculture, many of us simply don’t know how to grow our own food. Philip’s Academy’s students, by contrast, understand how food is grown, how it makes its way to their tables, and how consuming it manifests health and wellness outcomes.

And the effects of that deeply integrated instruction manifested during Mrs. Obama’s visit. The students bantered fluently about healthy foods and growing techniques over their granola and beet smoothies. Seventh grader Kelsey Roberson, who asked Mrs. Obama what her favorite soup is, later described the experience as “surreal” — and as a good time.

“It was really fun,” Kelsey said. “I can’t believe that Michelle Obama was actually at my school.”

College Success Centers for Newark high school students celebrate one-year anniversary today

education cardThe Abbott Leadership Institute-Youth Media Symposium (ALI-YMS) College Success Centers are celebrating the one-year anniversary of their College Readiness initiative aimed at serving Newark youth today.

The centers were first launched at Rutgers University-Newark, and have added seven additional contracted and pop-centers throughout the city.

Initiated by YMS students, the ALI-YMS College Success Centers aim to address the lack of college readiness assistance provided to Newark students. The centers provide students the resources to research career options, colleges, and financial aid opportunities, and also to receive direct assistance with the college application process. Current sites include Rutgers University-Newark, Leaders for Life, Inc. (Centers of Hope), Malcolm X Shabazz High School, Ironbound Community Center, Marion Bolden Center, East Side High School, Center of Hope: Clubhouse, and Newark Leadership Academy.

ALI-YMS says the centers have provided over 500 hours of direct service, professional development workshops, free tutoring, and free college tours to over 10 colleges and universities as of today.

The programs are funded by foundation dollars, including the State Farm Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and the Victoria Foundation.  The State Farm YAB will renew its commitment to the program with a $77,000 grant presentation at the event a celebration to take place at today (March 11, 2016) at Rutgers University-Newark, Bradley Hall, Room 149 starting at4:00 p.m. The event is open to the public.

To learn more about Abbott Leadership Institute, visit

Highly competitive debate program at Science Park High School featured in television segment (video)

Jonathan Alston once participated in the debate program at Science Park High School.

The experience was so formative that after earning a degree from Yale University, he came back to teach the skill to students who attend his alma mater. His program was recently featured on NJEA’s Classroom Close-up, NJ a television program that airs on NJTV. Throughout the video, a classroom of students can be seen debating the pros and cons of body cameras on police officers.

“Most kids want a voice. They want what they are saying to be heard, and debate provides a space where students can speak and no one else can speak,” Alston said, adding that learning debate skills gives students confidence and “ownership of intellect.”

The debate program at Science Park High School is 35 years old, and has been competitive statewide and nationally. Alston, who is also an English teacher at the school, himself won two state championships as a student, and his students touted his prowess as a debater and a teacher in turn. “Every little intricacy that is found within the activity of debare, Alston knows about,” observed 12th grader Amit, who is also a member of the 2015-2016 USA Debate Team.

In 2015, Alston was named National Debate Coach Association Teacher of the Year.

Given the success of the high school debate program, it has now become part of the required curriculum for all 7th grade students at the school. Alston said he does a little more hand holding with the younger students, but that the core skills he teaches are the same.

They’re “high level skills” that enhance their prowess at more advanced humanities study, Alston explained. His students concurred. “Being able to learn debate allows them to view the world in a whole new way, not just in terms of the ideas that they get to receive, but also in terms of how they interact with each other,” said David, a Science Park High School junior.

Sophomore Brianna agreed: “I think that we’re gonna have a developing class that is smarter and that is…more progressive than before because people are actually gonna be thinkers,” she said.

To wit, Alston noted that debate does double duty as an engaging practice that also teaches students the skills so often drilled into them in preparation for standardized tests. “Everything that we’ve been talking about in terms of education reform, debaters have been doing for years,” Alston said. An alternative to doing more test prep and hiring more tutors? “Hire more debate coaches,” he said.

Newark high school students and alums meet local employers for lessons in networking and job skills (Photos)

Newark Enrolls application deadline if February 29 for families that want to apply to new schools

education cardFamilies interested in exploring school options for the 2016-2017 school year must complete the Newark Enrolls application online or in person at any district or participating charter school or at the Newark Public School’s (NPS) Family Support Center located at 301 W. Kinney Street prior to the Monday, February 29 deadline. The online application will close at11:59pm on the 29th, and the Family Support Center will have extended hours on Monday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. to assist those who need last minute support.


If families are interested in applying to these community schools, there are several options available:

  1. If families have not yet submitted an application online, they can simply rank a community school as their first preference when they do.
  2. If families have already submitted and want to change their enrollment selection based on this new information, they are able to do so by accessing their account online up until the deadline.
  3. If a family in the South Ward community decides after the deadline that they would like to attend a community school, they can visit the family support center located at 301 W. Kinney Street to get more information about next steps.

As a reminder, parents should complete a Newark Enrolls application if:

  • Their child is in the last grade in their current school, including those:
    • In grade 8 of all K through 8 schools
    • In grade 6 of Harriet Tubman School
    • In grade 4 of Benjamin Franklin, Branch Book, Fourteenth Avenue, Newark Educators’ Community Charter, Roberto Clemente, Roseville Community
    • In Pre-K4 of the Early Childhood Schools (Berliner, Gladys Hillman Jones, South, West) and all community-based Pre-K4 providers
  • Their child will be enrolling in public school for the first time in fall 2016, including:
    • New Pre-K students
    • New Kindergarten students
  • Their child wants to attend a new school for fall 2016 that better fits their needs

If children would like to remain in their current school next fall, parents do not need to submit an application.

Families who submit applications by February 29 for a new school will receive their match letters in mid-April. The match letter will inform families of their school placement for the fall and provide families with next steps to register and confirm their placement with their school.

For more information, please visit

New Elliot Street School facility ready to accept students for the coming academic year

education cardThe new Elliot Street School in Newark enjoyed its official grand opening on Wednesday, February 24th. Newark’s School Development Authority invested more than $41 million to build the state-of-the-art facility, which is the first newly constructed facility in the school district since the completion of the new Speedway Avenue Elementary School in 2010.

The original school building was destroyed in 2006 after it was struck by lightning and burned down. Its students have been diverted to various schools in nearby neighborhoods ever since.

The new building, located at 721 Summer Avenue, features specialized instruction classrooms, labs, a multi-purpose room with a stage, and media centers. The 138,000 square foot facility has a total of 42 classrooms and can serve about 900 students. Starting this coming school year, students in grades prekindergarten through fifth grade class will be enrolled at the school.

On the heels of this Elliot Street School ribbon cutting, a brand new Oliver Street school is scheduled to open in spring of this year. Construction planning for South Street School is currently under way; that school is scheduled for completion by the fall of 2018.

In 2007, the New Jersey Department of Education approved Newark Public Schools’ Long Range Facilities Plan, which called for the construction, expansion, or renovation of 58 school buildings in Newark. Speedway, Elliot Street, Oliver Street, and South Street represent four of those schools.

At the second annual KHEM Comic Fest in Newark, discussing the role of diversity in comics

culture cardComics have historically provided an avenue for readers to immerse themselves in a fictional world, but on Saturday, February 21st, fans and friends alike didn’t need to go too far to celebrate and fraternize about their favorite comic characters.

The second annual KHEM Comic Fest, hosted by P.B. S. Media, provided Newark residents comics that went well beyond the cache of mainstream titles, plus screenings, interactive panel discussions and performances from local artists.

The daylong festival, hosted at Newark’s Central High school, included a variety of panel discussions that explored the multifaceted nature of comics in educating youth. Panel discussions included a look at the use of comics to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as well as its ability to promote literacy in youth.

The discussion also highlighted the responsibility of animators who create comics that reflect the world around them. In two panel discussions — “Full Spectrum: Why Color in Comics Matter” and “A Brief History of Black Creators and Characters in Comics,” Darrell Goza, founder of ScriptGraphics, Kim Gaines of Grub Machine and Naseed Gift and Dilettante Bass of P. B. S. Media (and creators of the P. B. Soldier comic book) debated the importance of diversity and representation in comic books.

In a question posed during the latter panel, a young audience member urged Goza to reveal what characteristics make the “perfect” black character. In response, Goza noted that “the perfect black characters are flawed, they’re human, and they have the same things going on as we do.”

“If you’re looking for the perfect black character, you might just have to create it,” he told the high school student who had asked the question.

Gaines reflected on the misconceptions of female consumerism in the comic book industry. “I really want to see the value of a female audience get to the same level of a male audience,” she said. “A common misconception is that there isn’t a female comic audience, but we’re were and we exist. We just need to be seen.”

To reinforce Gaines’ point, Goza noted that in a 2014 poll conducted by Facebook, women accounted for  46.67% of the general comic book fan population on the social network.

When asked if there was any particular way to increase the female viewership or galvanize it, Gaines declared that there isn’t. She encouraged animators to rely on the power of good story above all. “I’m a firm believer in the fact that it you have a good story, people will be interested. No matter who,” said Gaines.

In the race realm, the discussion demonstrated that the issue of diversity is also not a singular one. The lack of characters of color and nuanced female characters was immediately diagnosed as an issue that stemmed from a lack of female creators and creators of color. “You have to have women creating women. Until that happens, the way to create a multifaceted female character will not be known,” said Goza.

“I want to see more women characters in film and comics, but I want it to be more thought out. I just don’t want creators to just create women characters for creating sake,” responded Bass.

Independent comic book artists were among the audience member, including one who noted that as a man, he writes women characters that veer from the overtly sexual characters that are common in mainstream publications. “I don’t believe you have to be a female to write a good female character. I also don’t believe that you have to be black to write a good black character,” he said.

Gaines concurred: “Never would I want someone to look at me and say ‘You can’t write that character because you are a black woman.’”

“We are creative thinkers, and we find inspiration all over the place, and what’s unique for us and our kind is that we have the ability to empathize and to see the world from the eyes of others and write from that perspective,” Gaines continued.

Another audience member lamented that the most popular comics already have well-established fan bases and are dominating the market. Since his first appearance in 1939, Batman has been a comic book staple and has captured the attention of fans all over the world. In light of this, what does this mean for the range of emerging comic books, and will they be able to make a dent in the market?

“They’re fan-base driven. With Marvel and DC [Comics], I tried to include one of my characters into the mix and they basically told me if it’s not Batman or Superman, we don’t want it,” the audience member said.

“Clearly for the last 75 years, we’re still hearing about Batman, aren’t we? But for the life of me, I can’t understand how two companies who claim to be leading in the creative industry remain huddled in this box of what a superhero looks like, what they act like, what they wear. And they stay there and won’t move,” said Gaines.

“You’re a creative person, it’s your job to think outside the box,” she continued.

In closing, Gifted noted that the purpose of events like KHEM Comic Fest and companies like P. B. S. Media is to reflect the world in a manner that’s as inclusive as possible.

“We need to create the characters that reflect us and tell stories that reflect our experiences. The whole purpose of all of this is looking for a way to see yourself in the picture. That’s the key to all of this,” said Gifted.

To learn more about KHEM Fest and PBSoldier, visit their Facebook Page. To explore more comic books and comic book creators of color, visit the hashtag #ExploreBlackComics. View pictures and other information from the 2nd annual KHEM Fest by using the hashtag #KHEMFest

Newark elementary school students hit the main stage at NJPAC thanks to the Disney Musicals in Schools program

education cardNew Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Prudential Hall has hosted an impressive array of professional performers, but earlier this month they instead hosted a crop of 3rd to 5th graders who shined bright on the main stage after reenacting Disney classics like The Lion King and Aladdin for beaming parents, proud teachers, and eager spectators. The production, which was the fruit of a collaboration between Disney Musicals in Schools and NJPAC, is the brainchild of the Disney Theatrical Group.

Founded in 2009, Disney Musicals in Schools works with performing art centers around the country to build sustainable theater programs in under-resourced public schools by providing them with the necessary tools to stage a 30-minute rendition of a Disney musical written for elementary school performers.

“The NJPAC Disney Musicals in Schools program is structured with sustainability as a tenant,” said NJPAC Vice President of Arts Education, Alison Scott-Williams.  “The musical preparation is in three phases that begins with the teaching artists taking the lead in phase one, co-teaching between the teaching artists and the school team in phase two, followed by the school team leading rehearsals in phase three,” she continued.

To produce a play made for the main stage, students worked with teachers and Disney Musicals in Schools teaching artists during a 17-week residency. Students are provided  with the show kit and a professional development session for the school team to make the production a reality.

“Confidence, empathy, tolerance, collaboration, and creativity are some of the very valuable traits nurtured in the rehearsal process,” said Lisa Mitchell, Disney Theatrical Group’s senior manager of education and outreach.

According to a press release, NJPAC is among four arts organizations in the nation and the only regional partner in New Jersey selected this academic year to collaborate with Disney Musicals in Schools.

Out of 17 applications, NJPAC selected five schools, three of which are Newark Public Schools. Students from Branch Brook School, Luis Muñoz Marin School and Mount Vernon School, all in Newark, were amongst the 170 students that graced the stage in colorful, handmade threads to perform Alan Menken’s “It All Starts With A Dream.”

“Thanks to NJPAC and the Disney Musicals in Schools program, our kids had the extraordinary opportunity to participate in this fantastic program, and we are grateful our schools were selected to participate in the program’s inaugural year,” said Newark Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Cerf.

In addition to having little to no arts education, at least 25 percent of the selected schools’ student population is required to live at or below the poverty line

“The Disney Musicals in Schools mission is to build sustainable theater programs in under-resourced public schools. NJPAC was a natural fit for the program given their deep commitment to arts-education and strong relationships with schools in Newark and the surrounding area,” added Mitchell.

According to Scott-Williams, the effect of the program goes beyond the 30-minute stage production.

“For many urban schools with limited arts resources, this program provides the opportunity for the entire school community to support the musical [including] set design, costumes, and the rehearsal process.  Through the strength of the school team and the embrace of the school community, each school can build its own traditions for years to come.”

Featured image: Host Lori Stokes, anchor of Eyewitness News This Morning and Eyewitness News at Noon. photo credit: Norman DeShong