NJEA President Marie Blistan and New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet, joined by Camden Education Association (CEA) President Keith Eric Benson, CEA 1st Vice President Larry Blake, CEA 2nd Vice President Karen Luke, Camden Superintendent Katrina McCombs and over a dozen representatives from the staffs of the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning and NJEA toured three schools in Camden Public Schools on April 29. NJEA Vice President Sean M. Spiller and NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty also joined the tour. They sought to shine a spotlight on a variety of academic and career and technical education opportunities available in Camden’s traditional public schools. All three schools are part of the district and the CEA’s community schools program.

A community school features a systemic approach to rethinking schools and their operation and includes five key elements: engaging and relevant curricula, an emphasis on teaching over testing, wrap-around services for students and parents, restorative justice practices, and parent and community involvement in decision-making. 

The day began at Yorkship Family School in the Fairview section of the city. Yorkship was the first of nine Camden schools that have participated in the NJEA Priority Schools Initiative (NJEA PSI), a program that ensures that staff working in the schools take leadership roles in student achievement and program design. Through the instructional support of NJEA PSI at Yorkship, the school is the best academically performing community school in the district.

Situated in a neighborhood with a significant history in shipbuilding, the school boasts a boat-building program that was featured in the NJEA Review in September 2018.

The group also visited the calming room at Yorkship, which is part of a restorative justice program that focuses on support and instruction is managing emotions.

At Dr. Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High School in the Whitman Park neighborhood, Blistan and Repollet visited Chris Chavarria’s physics classroom and heard a presentation from students participating in Chow Hound House, an initiative in the school’s veterinary program. Physics teacher Chris Chavarria earned his endorsement to teach physics through the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning (NJCTL). Founded by NJEA, NJCTL has gone on to become the number one producer of physics teachers in the U.S., particularly in underserved communities. NJCTL is the featured cover story in this edition of the Review.

Visitors at Thomas Dudley School observe a morning circle in a preschool class.

Brimm’s Chow Hound House is a student-run food bank for animals that partners with other organizations to provide services to the Camden residents with domestic animals. In addition to animal nutrition, Chow Hound House provides spay and neuter services and partners with Animal Aid USA to find New Jersey homes for rescue dogs from Georgia, among other initiatives. The Chow Hound House has been featured in both the NJEA Review (January 2017), “Classroom Close-up NJ” (classroomcloseup.org), and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Finally, the group toured Thomas H. Dudley Family School in the East Camden neighborhood. NJEA PSI had provided training at Dudley School on the circle practice that the school uses to hold circle sessions with students and parents. Circle is a restorative justice practice. The group visited classrooms and heard presentations from students and staff on the school’s comprehensive mindfulness and restorative justice programs that begin at prekindergarten and continue through eighth grade. 

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