2016-06-08 / Columns

JCRC impacting schoolchildren throughout Southern New Jersey

JCRC Executive Director

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) serves as the voice of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey on issues relating to public policy, social advocacy and community outreach. A large portion of our social advocacy and community outreach work is with area schools. These efforts fall under the purview of two JCRC departments: The BookMates Interfaith Literacy Program (BookMates) and the Goodwin Holocaust Museum and Education Center (GHMEC). Both of these departments work closely with educators and students in schools throughout Southern New Jersey.

BookMates began in 1999 as a social justice program of the JCRC and the Catholic-Jewish Commission. It provides services to public school students from Kindergarten through Second Grade in 38 Title I elementary schools in low- and moderate-income communities throughout Southern New Jersey. Today it is a well-established program that fosters a love of reading and a foundation for young students to succeed in school. Adult volunteers meet students for weekly one-on-one reading sessions. Approximately 7,000 disadvantaged students have benefited from their exposure to books with a mentor.

In 2014, BookMates formed a partnership with the Camden County Police Department (Metro Division) and the Camden City Mayor’s Office to train police officers and members of the Mayor’s Congress to become readers for Camden City Kindergarten students in the Camden schools. This initiative is part of the Police & Congress Enjoy Reading (PACER) Program. Police officers are reading one-on-one with students and interacting in a positive setting in which the students are looking to them as mentors, role models and trusted resources. In addition, this year BookMates had 33 Rowan Medical students from Stratford reading in Berlin. This program is funded in large part through sponsor Townsend Press in memory of Henry H. Nadell and Marjorie Nadell Schneider.

The GHMEC offers diverse educational programs on the history and lessons of the Holocaust with the goal of reducing hatred, bigotry, prejudice and violence against all groups. GHMEC programming correlates with History, Character Education and Anti- Bullying curricula for public, private and parochial schools. In 1994, the NJ State Legislature passed an act mandating Holocaust and genocide education for students in Kindergarten through 12th Grade. The GHMEC has developed an array of programs for every grade level that complement state curricula. Also, the GHMEC is now working with private and parochial schools even though they are not required to teach Holocaust education under the state mandate.

Middle and high school students hear stories about the Holocaust from Survivors, their children and grandchildren. These students meet the speakers at the GHMEC and in their classrooms. Students in classrooms across New Jersey, other states, and Canada hear the speakers through video conferencing. Kindergarten through Fifth Grade students hear and discuss books about tolerance and prejudice read to them by guest readers in their classrooms. Guest readers are GHMEC volunteers and also students from Sterling High School. Students attend theatrical performances sponsored by the GHMEC, participate in the annual March of Remembrance, eat lunch with survivors at Café Europa, and apply through their schools for the Josiah DuBois Award for exceptional community service. Educators from across the state attend continuing education programs and go on an annual trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, offered by the GHMEC to enhance their knowledge for their students.

Through BookMates and the GHMEC, the JCRC is making a significant impact on primary and secondary school students and educators. BookMates volunteers are instilling a love of reading and learning in the youngest disadvantaged students in Camden. The GHMEC is providing multi-faceted programs for students in all grades with the goal of promoting understanding and tolerance among all groups by eliminating hatred and bigotry. The JCRC is working every day to help create a better world for students in South Jersey and beyond.

To learn more about how you can get involved with either of these two important JCRC programs, please email jcrcsnj@jfedsnj.org or call (856) 751-9500, ext. 1191.


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