Verona - Cedar Grove Times

Cedar Grove Studies Social Justice

Program teaches responsibility to community, environment

Verona–Cedar Grove Times — Thursday, June 18, 2009

Students in Memorial Middle School had their consciousness raised on a variety of social issues facing them today and in the future as they experienced the speakers and programs that comprised Social Justice Day.

Chaired by English teacher Stacy Goldberger, the program provided students with insight into the issues, organizations, and people who seek to preserve the environment, the democratic process and social justice for all who inhabit the earth.

The fifth grade program began with an assembly presented by Gina Mongiello of the Essex County Environmental Center, who discussed the various professionals who help the environment and animals. Subsequent classroom workshops included talks by Beth Mersten, the outreach manager for the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and Shelter Showcase's "No More Homeless Pets" campaign.

A representative of Father Nature's Ferret Rescue, spoke of her adventures rescuing over 700 ferrets, and Mary Sepede from Friends of Wayne Animals, introduced students to several animals that are currently being fostered by her organization, which saves about 1,000 animals each year. Janet Piszar of the NJ Bear Group, talked about protecting black bears and how to live humanely among them, and Ron Locascio of Paws of Montclair discussed the purpose of no-kill shelters and the benefits of adopting from shelters rather than breeders.

Sixth and seventh grade students attended an assembly on role models, presented by Sergeant White of the New Jersey State Police. Six graders then attended workshops presented by Dr. Laurel Kearns, a scholar of environmental studies who spoke about students' individual responsibility to save the planet. Other presentations included the New Jersey Citizen Action group, the New Jersey Watershed Protection and the Passaic Valley Sewage Commission.

Seventh grade workshops featured former Cedar Grove teacher Barbara Anne Ellert, who now serves as an advocate for the elderly. Ron Moore, representing the Kessler Institute, spoke on how to avoid head and spinal cord injuries and showed students how he lives a complete life despite having injured his spinal cord. Other organizations represented included die American Red Cross, the League of Women Voters, the Community Food Bank, the New Jersey Bar Association and the Women's Center of Montclair State University.

The eighth grade program ran in concert with the yearlong English theme of social justice. The assembly, entitled "Survivors Speak," was provided by The United Jewish Communities. It featured Harry Ettlinger, who fled Nazi Germany as a child and then served in U.S. Army. Ettlinger subsequently joined the Monuments Men, an organization originally created to protect statues and architecture after battles in France. He became one of 350 men and women worldwide who searched and recovered art that was looted by the Nazis during the war. Ettlinger remained in Europe, recovering art, until 1951.

The second speaker, Robert Max, was captured and taken prisoner by Nazis while fighting in a Battle of the Bulge. The Newark native was taken to a slave labor camp, where he was made to repair railroad lines bombed by the Allies. After three months, Max escaped. While hiding in a barn, he spotted an American military vehicle. He was rescued and spent 10 months in a hospital.

Goldberger, who organized the event, identified the objective of the day's program.

"Social Justice Day enables our students to learn how they have a voice and therefore, a responsibility to their community," she said. "Along with developing their personal accountability, students will hopefully expand their empathy and sense of justice beyond themselves. At the end of the day, they will also have a deeper awareness of the roots beneath the many issues that affect humans, other animals and the environment."

— Submitted by Joanne Cooney

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