Next Generation of New Jersey’s Teacher and Parent Activists Join Together to Develop Ideas and Tactics at Annual Retreat

[New Jersey – February 21, 2024] JerseyCAN, the only statewide advocacy organization in New Jersey committed to ensuring access to high-quality public schools for every child regardless of zip code, cultural background, and socioeconomic status, held its annual statewide retreat for its 2023-2024 NJ Teacher Leader Policy and Parent Champions for Strong Schools fellowships last weekend. The annual event, which brings together both cohorts for a day of forums, strategic planning, and guest speakers, was facilitated by JerseyCAN Fellowship leaders Chelsea Collins and Samantha Wilkerson and included presentations on – parent advocacy from Jasmine Morrison, Executive Director, New Jersey’s Unapologetic Parents; working with school district administrators with Joseph Meloche, 2021 NJ Superintendent of the Year and former Superintendent of Cherry Hill School District; and targeted advocacy toward elected officials in Trenton with Ray Woods, Senior Vice President Government Relations & Public Affairs at Tonio Burgos & Associates, Inc.; Rebecca Sieg, a former New Jersey Department of Education official and current Executive Director of Rekindle Education, provided this year’s keynote address.

The two fellowships were developed by JerseyCAN to create a statewide mechanism that encourages and trains more education activists throughout the state.  Both fellowships serve as year-long programs to assist New Jersey teachers and parents in engaging in education policy and advocacy. Participants of both fellowships discuss the latest policy trends and issues in New Jersey education and gain a deeper understanding of the state’s education policy landscape by expanding their knowledge of local, state, and national governance.  In addition, both fellowships utilize JerseyCAN’s strong relationships in Trenton to provide multiple opportunities to network with elected leaders and influential educational stakeholders while building strong engagement and advocacy skills. As part of the fellowship, each participant conceptualizes and leads a personal project representing a policy issue related to their passions and interests.

“JerseyCAN launched the NJ Teacher Leader Policy and Parent Champions for Strong Schools fellowships to build two new cohorts of education advocates each year to serve the Garden State,” stated JerseyCAN Executive Director Paula White. “As seen in Trenton and on the local level, parents and teachers are speaking up because they are directly impacted by every decision made in education. Not only must their voices be heard when leaders propose new initiatives, they must be listened to as they proactively communicate their ideas and concerns. JerseyCAN is filling a needed void for those in our community who want to participate and contribute as advocates, not just for themselves but for their fellow educators and parents.  The success of JerseyCAN’s fellowship programs has already been evident as our fellows have become influencers in drafting policy with elected leaders and have helped to lead initiatives at the district level to build needed, positive change. Our annual retreat allows teachers and parents to unite, share their experiences and passions, and continue their intensive training. We are deeply grateful to our fellowship organizers and the officials, strategists, and education experts who gave of their time to play a valuable role in making this year’s event a success.

“I cherished every moment of the JerseyCAN conference, particularly the learning sessions. The insights on earned media and crafting advocacy strategies were invaluable takeaways. I sincerely appreciate my involvement in the Parent Fellowship and the provided connections and support,” stated 2023-24 Parent Fellow Kashieka Phillips, who serves as Community Alignment Program Supervisor at the Partnership for Maternal & Child Health of Northern New Jersey.

“As a special education teacher, I have always advocated for my students’ needs. Working as a Policy Fellow with JerseyCAN has given me the tools to expand that advocacy beyond my classroom and advocate for all New Jersey students and teachers. Teachers are one of the most essential voices in education, and we must be empowered to make a difference when it comes to policies that pertain to our students in ways that can have a lifelong impact. For me, that means ensuring every student is afforded the right to learn to read,” stated 2023-24 Teacher Fellow Dawn De Lorenzo.


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