2007-01-18 / Schools

'Heroes and Cool Kids' teaches pupils life skills


Staff Writer

JACKSON - Students in the Jackson School District are working hard to resolve behavioral conflicts and to set examples as positive role models for fellow classmates.

In a Dec. 19 presentation to the Board of Education, teacher-advisers Melissa Pennell and Bea Gagliano explained how the Heroes and Cool Kids program works in Jackson schools with students who are in grades 6-12.

"The Heroes and Cool Kids program is a cross-age peer mentoring program that picks up where the Drug Abuse Resis-tance Education (DARE) program leaves off," Pennell said. "Heroes and Cool Kids focuses on the development of important life skills such as making connections with positive role models, bullying prevention, conflict resolution and making positive lifestyle choices by highlighting drug, alcohol and tobacco [abuse] prevention."

The program presently consists of 45 high school students who maintain good grades, are considered to be positive role models and exhibit good behavior in and out of the classroom. The participating students and their parents sign a pledge which states that the young people will abstain from using drugs, alcohol and tobacco wile participating in the program.

According to the program's advisers, these students show good communication skills and display a desire to participate in communication skill training.

"What's great about this program is that it benefits not only the sixth-graders, but the high school participants as well," Pennell said. "The sixth-graders receive bullying prevention tools, character education, they get a chance to meet positive role models and are more likely to participate in similar programs when they attend high school."

At the same time, the high school participants develop and hone their own leadership, mentoring and public speaking skills, the adviser said.

Pennell said the program consists of three district training conferences and visits that are scheduled between November and May. The trainers are current and former professional athletes who train the students along with students from some of the 38 other high schools that participate, she said.

In a power point presentation, the advisers showed training sessions at Brookdale Community College, Lincroft. The sessions were led by Keith Elias, a Princeton University graduate and former running back with the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts.

The first conference trained students on public speaking techniques and how to be a positive role model for younger students.

Other students trained with Bruce Harper, a former running back with the New York Jets, and Tim Bassett, who played in the ABA and the NBA and was a teammate of Julius Erving with the Nets.

Tennis professional Kyle Copeland-Muse held a program in a third training room.

Other sessions cover activities for School Violence Awareness Week and making positive lifestyle choices.

"We really believe this program is making a positive impact on our students and sixth-graders who participate and we are looking forward to continuing with this program in the years to come," Pennell told the board.

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