• June July 2016 Main
  • "It Takes a Village."


    Many parents in our school district like to say that “it takes a village” to raise our children successfully. When one looks at how the Margate School District educates its students to foster an awareness of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, this saying cannot be truer. Almost every municipality in New Jersey has a Municipal Alliance, but Margate is one of the very few municipalities whose Alliance is operated through the local school district. Along with its neighbor (and sending district), Longport, our Alliance is dedicated to the creation of a network of community leaders, private citizens, and representatives from public and private human service agencies who are focused on promoting and supporting alcohol, drug, and crime prevention and educational programs.

    Margate is a barrier island community in Atlantic County with a population of approximately 8500 residents, which swells to about 40,000 during the summer months. This seashore community is located approximately three miles south of Atlantic City and approximately 50 miles east of Philadelphia. The Margate School District educates approximately 400 students in two schools: William H. Ross Elementary (grades K-4) and the EA Tighe Middle School (grades 5-8). The District is committed to a quality education for its students. The health and safety of those students, as well as that of its staff, is also a priority.

    I have been the superintendent here for the past two years, but I was a principal in the town for 14 years before that. As any small district, our administrators wear many “hats.” As principal, and still as superintendent, one of those additional responsibilities for me has been the chairperson of the Margate-Longport Municipal Alliance. Each year I put together a budget and strategic plan for five programs that address prevention on many different levels. These programs would not be able to run successfully without a variety of stakeholders. Our Alliance Coordinator, Veronica Valencia, has been working with me since my first year – 2000. She is a 3rd grade teacher at Ross School and successfully organizes our educational staff’s participation in several of the Alliance programs. She also coordinates the efforts of police, firefighters, parents, the town’s recreation staff, and students while maintaining fiscal accountability through submission of quarterly reports to the County Alliance.

    Our programs focus on proactive strategies and address specific risk factors, and they include various members of the community. The total budget for our Alliance’s five programs is $20,484 plus a cash match from the City of $5,121. The County Alliance annually allocates these funds (from DUI fines and confiscated drug money) that are used for supplies and a small amount of salaries. The programs include the following:

    Lucky Kids – A daily supervised afterschool program integrating schoolwork and play. Strategies are implemented to latch-key children who may be potentially at-risk.

    Strategy – Early Intervention

    Risk Factor – Family Management

    Teen Rec Program – Every Friday evening during the school year recreational programs are offered to local youths in grades 5-8.  Substance abuse information, educational materials, and videos are available to the participants.

    Strategy – Alternatives and Information Dissemination

    Risk Factor – Early First Use

    B.A.B.E.S. – Through the use of puppets, our elementary school nurse provides age-appropriate drug and alcohol information to first graders while providing them with the self-esteem and other skills necessary to begin to resist peer pressure.

    Strategy – Early Intervention

    Risk Factor – Early First Use

    “Shoot for the Stars” – Two large school-based social events are held during the school year for all students and their families.  The events include games, snacks, a DJ, and dancing…all with a specific anti-drug and anti-tobacco theme with presentations and/or appropriate literature dissemination.

    Strategy – Alternatives

    Risk Factor – Early First Use   

    In order to address the ever-increasing availability of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs in our society, we are extremely fortunate to include L.E.A.D. (Law Enforcement Against Drugs) as the fifth program sponsored by the Municipal Alliance. For years, the district had collaborated with local police to offer a D.A.R.E. program to its 5th and 8th graders; however, we felt that the program was not making a significant impact because of a lack of cohesion with key components in New Jersey’s Health Curriculum, which also includes positive character building and coping skills that prevent bullying. The District always supported the value of police personnel’s teaching in our schools, but we also wanted a better curriculum that met New Jersey’s Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs (ATOD) laws and Core Curriculum Content Standards. The timing could not be better!

    As a new superintendent with a handle on what we needed to supplement our health classes, this new program, supported by NJASA, came along just as local police and the District were preparing to train new officers to teach in our 5th and 8th grade classrooms. We immediately steered these four young officers to L.E.A.D. training. The County Municipal Alliance was supportive and had no problem with our changing the D.A.R.E. program to L.E.A.D.

    I immediately became involved with this group as a member of its Academic Advisory Board. The law enforcement personnel in the L.E.A.D. organization were extremely welcoming. They valued the administrators’ input and were particularly impressed with Margate’s educational model, which included its long-time partnership with the local Municipal Alliance. I find the L.E.A.D. adopted Mendez Foundation’s Too Good for Drugs & Violence family of curricula to be spot on in the areas of prevention and character building. The curriculum’s goals are clear and easy to follow. It is more than just a “scare” program that details the physical dangers of drugs. As I stated earlier, its positive character building and coping skills are important preventative strategies in the fight against substance abuse. 

    Our four L.E.A.D. officers have become an integral part of our school family! They can be seen supporting the students at extracurricular events, as well as other Alliance activities. They are also making themselves a presence in our elementary school. Several officers make daily visits to both schools to interact with the students. L.E.A.D. has helped to solidify the partnership between our schools and the police.

    I would be remiss when talking partnerships with our schools if I did not mention the Margate Fire Department. They have also been a presence for many years at several school functions including field days and “Shoot for the Stars” events.  They, along with the police, are available to us at a moment’s notice. They assist our staff with supervision during large outdoor school events. The firefighters provide support through education (fire safety) and overall physical health as EMT’s. The police control automobile traffic so that the children and staff can cross the streets safely during evacuation drills and events at the beach (only three blocks away).

    The children in Margate and Longport are fortunate to have so many dedicated people in their lives. Police, fire, recreation, and educational professionals work together in our community with just one goal in mind – to do whatever is necessary for our children. Along with their families, these young people indeed benefit from being part of our “village!”