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New Jersey students of color call for more mental health resources

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Students at Newark and Elizabeth Public Schools used their day off Thursday to demand fewer police officers and more mental health resources and teachers in schools.

Young leaders from Make the Road New Jersey brought together dozens of teenagers in Elizabeth to demand more resources for public school students and greater transparency in school policies.

As they walked down Broad Street in Elizabeth and towards the Thomas Jefferson Arts Academy to continue their rally, the students chanted, “Police in the schools must go!”

Breoghan Conchas Marquez, a senior at East Side High School in Newark, said “there are a lot of issues affecting black and brown students” in cities like Newark and Elizabeth, but mental health resources should be at the forefront in these communities.

“There is a discrepancy between the amount of the security guard and the amount of the adviser,” Conchas Marquez said during the march. “There’s not really, like, a good way for all students to get mental health support in Newark or anywhere else.”

Across the country, federal and state leaders have highlighted the urgent need for youth mental health support in the wake of the pandemic. In July, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy introduced his National Governors Association Chair Initiative, which focuses on strengthening youth mental health. The initiative has garnered support from other state governors seeking bipartisan solutions.

In New Jersey, black and Latino students have less access to school mental health staff today than they did a decade ago, according to a New Jersey Policy Perspective study. In Newark and Elizabeth, where the majority of students identify as Black and Latinx, inequity is at the forefront as teens and their families are more likely to live in poverty and may have suffered the disproportionate effects of the pandemic. .

Dozens of teenagers marched in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to protest police in schools and demand more counselors and resources to help students of color.

Students at Thursday’s march said they are not only standing up for mental health issues, but are also urging state and local leaders to provide clean water in schools, d eliminating uniforms, providing access to clean bathrooms and having cell phone privileges during the day, among other issues affecting teens in the area’s public schools.

Giovana Castaneda is a senior at Rutgers and organized the march alongside her youth team at Make the Road New Jersey. For her, the gaps in public schools are the same as when she went to high school four years ago. Currently, his team has launched the “Counselors Not Cops” campaign to raise awareness of police presence in New Jersey versus counselors or other school resources.

“We have started to see an increase in law enforcement presence in schools and references to law enforcement. The Counselors not Cops campaign started because we saw there was an overpressure from black and brown students,” Castaneda said.

Currently, her team is focused on community outreach in Elizabeth, but she said “issues are similar to Newark” when it comes to students of color.

“When I go to their schools, their schools are like prisons. Some don’t have air conditioning, others don’t have quality meals or quality water,” Castaneda added. “It’s up to community members to create community access programs when it shouldn’t be like that. We should use municipal budgets and school budgets to create these resources for students, the community should not.

Joe Johnson, political adviser for the American Civil Liberties Union New Jersey, attended Thursday’s march and said state leaders must do more to help students in cities like Newark and Elizabeth who are facing violence in their communities and the consequences of the pandemic.

“Students have issues they’re dealing with and they want to be able to talk to a professional about them, whether it’s something that’s happening in schools, in the community, or at home,” Johnson said. “Most students don’t have access to a mental health professional.

Additionally, state leaders should steer clear of ‘quick-fixes’ or increased policing after events like the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, or violence in the community, added Johnson. The goal is “to listen to what students want,” he said.

“What we really see is that every time something happens, there’s a very quick visceral reaction: ‘We need more police, more cameras, more metal detectors'” , Johnson said. “What ends up happening is that most of this stuff goes into black and brown school districts, pretty much without fail.”

Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at [email protected].