Research shows that developing connections to trusted adults in school is one of the strongest levers for ensuring that students persist through adversity. SOMA is just days away from losing two programs that create those very connections: the Loft and the Hub. Serving over 500 SOMSD students annually, the Loft at CHS and the Hub at MMS have provided needed social emotional and academic support to our students. But the proposed New Jersey budget for FY2021 completely eliminates funding for over 90 School Based Youth Services Programs (SBYSPs) around the state, including the Loft and the Hub. Housed in SOMSD schools, run by the not-for-profit Family Connections, and funded by a NJ Department of Children and Families grant, the Loft and the Hub comprise an essential part of our school communities. We ask the community to work together to preserve this essential state-funded resource for our students.
In addition to providing recreational programs to create a welcoming space for students, the Loft provides counseling and other mental health support, academic support, and employment services. Students receive free weekly, individual clinical therapy at the Loft. Students can attend interactive prevention workshops on important topics such as dating violence, suicide prevention, and bullying. The Loft also offers drop-in and group counseling services. Students can build resume and interview skills. Once a week, the Loft hosts a homework club with Achieve tutors to reach students who may not participate in other ways. The Loft has an additional grant that has allowed it to provide a restorative justice component, with the goal of reducing out of school suspensions. The Hub plays a similarly vital role at MMS, particularly by providing after school activities and support, showing our young teens and tweens that the community cares about them even after the bell rings at 3:15.
The Loft and the Hub ensure that our most vulnerable teens do not slip through the cracks. The proposed budget cuts would result in a permanent closure of the Loft and the Hub. Because these social-emotional services have been provided by the state-funded Loft and Hub, our schools have structured their own social-emotional services to compliment the state-funded services. To not provide comprehensive services is not an option if our community is to live up to its basic values. So, without these state-funded programs, we would have to build the same services from the ground up and fund them from our already constrained school budget.
We believe in the power of collaborating with our young people to create cultures of belonging where all students can thrive. We have seen how the Loft and Hub welcome students, earn their trust, and provide needed support that helps not only the individual students, but the entire community. In times of economic hardship, heightened anxiety and enormous uncertainty for families throughout New Jersey and specifically in South Orange and Maplewood, we must invest more, not less, in our youth.
Please join us in calling, emailing and petitioning Governor Murphy to preserve the Hub at MMS and the Loft at CHS:
Governor Phil Murphy
FACEBOOK: @PHILMURPHYNJ @GOVERNORPHILMURPHY