RARITAN, NJ - The Bridgewater-Raritan board of education recently honored the SPEAK student advocate group from Bridgewater-Raritan High School for winning an award from Somerset County.
The club earned the inaugural Safe+Sound Somerset’s SPEAK Out, Stand Up Award for its leadership efforts, including educating other students about healthy personal relationships, dating abuse and domestic violence, while also working to create a culture of respect to break the cycle of violence.
The award was presented Feb. 23 at the 2019 Safe+Sound Teen Leadership Conference, held at Raritan Valley Community College.
“We made it our mission to engage the student body,” said club co-advisor Kathleen DeBonis.
The club’s other co-advisor is Erin Leigh.
“Bridgewater-Raritan High School is the first high school SPEAK Club to earn this distinction,” said Joelle Piercy, community outreach coordinator of Safe+Sound, in a prepared statement about the SPEAK Out, Stand Up Award. “Bridgewater-Raritan High School SPEAK students have shown leadership, enthusiasm and initiative in developing a group that has created a culture of respect and safety within the community.”
She also said that one of SPEAK’s most successful projects has been the development of an interactive peer-education program that club members will present to all freshman health classes at Bridgewater-Raritan High School, to introduce them to harmful or abusive relationship behaviors.
“The SPEAK club shows a dedication to education and awareness-building, with club officers using meetings as a chance to discuss important topics so that club members can comfortably talk about healthy relationships and dating abuse,” Piercy said.
SPEAK consists of about 60 students in all, and was founded in 2016 by current Bridgewater-Raritan seniors and club co-presidents John Anthony Cicale and Maggie Buckridge. Other board members include secretary Natalia Rybak, treasurer Kelly Wutke and publicity coordinator Emily Brandt.
Club members are scheduled to go into freshman health classes at Bridgewater-Raritan High School to educate some 700 freshmen in all about relationships and dating. DeBonis added that the club has also created a dating abuse campaign, with an emphasis on education and prevention, to further its mission.
The Bridgewater-Raritan board of education unanimously approved a resolution honoring the club, while board president Jill Gladstone offered congratulations on behalf of the board. Gladstone and Superintendent Russell Lazovick also presented the club’s board members with proclamations from the school board.
SPEAK members will also assist with Safe+Sound Somerset’s 5K Run/Walk annual fundraiser April 7 at Duke Island Park, in Bridgewater, at 9 a.m. Registration will begin at 8 a.m. that day, while pre-registration, directions and other event information is available at https://runsignup.com/Race/NJ/Bridgewater/Speak5KRunWalk