PLAINFIELD, NJ - In recognition of School Violence Awareness Week in October, administrators at Hubbard Middle School in Plainfield hosted several school based youth services programs (SBYSP) aimed at identifying and mentoring 7th and 8th grade boys who may be considered “at-risk” due to a number of factors.

The programs were coordinated by Ralph Johnson, a School Based Youth Services Development Specialist; he is a former school administrator of 11 years, and is currently employed as a Newark Law Enforcement Department Lieutenant. According to Johnson, the main objective was to “start the conversation with the at-risk youth or scholars to identify issues early, provide appropriate resources and resolve issues before they escalate.”

The first session, titled “Teaching with Movies,” used a film called “Touch” that was produced by Newark native Saladin Stafford, to start the conversation with the young men. Stafford aims to use the film as a means to educate urban youth about conflict and resolution. The movie traces the life of main character Touch, a teenager being raised by a single father and faced with the temptations of drugs and gangs. Touch also grapples with his home life and the absence of his mother who he eventually meets. The film features local Plainfield youth who were recognized by the students.

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Throughout the film, Johnson engaged the students with thoughtful questions about the film’s main characters, the relationships between them, and how the movie may relate to the students' real-life experiences. The highlight of the film viewing was the appearance of the film's producer, Stafford, at the end of the movie. The boys were given the opportunity to meet with him directly, and to both ask questions about film making as a career, and the movie itself.

Later in the week, a smaller group of students were mentored by local law enforcement officers from the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center for a session entitled “Consequences of Crime” to experience the real-life ordeal of being incarcerated.

Johnson hopes that with additional funding from both state and private sources, as well as increased participation from community service providers, the programs can be further developed, and that other schools will adopt and implement similar programs.

Hubbard's principal, Kwame Asante, stated that exposing the students to these different programs will give them the tools needed to deal with their own situations before they move on to high school.

According to the New Jersey Education website, The School Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP) is located in host schools and serves to coordinate with existing resources in the community.  All youth are eligible to participate and services are provided before, during and after school.  SBYSP services include: mental health counseling; employment counseling; substance abuse education/prevention; preventive health awareness including pregnancy prevention; primary medical linkages; learning support; healthy youth development; recreation; and information/referral.