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Verrelli, Mejia & Speight Bill Package Promoting the Arts for At-Risk Youth Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Seeking to promote the arts for at-risk youth in New Jersey, Assembly Democrats Anthony Verrelli, Pedro Mejia and Shanique Speight sponsored a bill package dedicated to expanding exposure to art education to young people in underprivileged communities and to juvenile offenders. The bills cleared the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee Thursday.

“Art can be an incredibly useful tool in allowing young people to express themselves creatively,” said Verrelli (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Not only is art education an integral factor in the mental, social and emotional development of a child, but also in the educational curriculum necessary to develop our state’s future leaders.”

“There are many troubled young people who don’t know how to properly express their struggles,” said Mejia (D-Bergen/Hudson). “By promoting art education for our state’s most at-risk youth, we can help them fulfill the potential they undoubtedly have to make New Jersey an even greater state than it already is.”

“It is our responsibility to ensure that all kids in New Jersey have an opportunity to take advantage of all the benefits art provides for people, from both an intellectual and social perspective,” said Speight (D-Essex). “Art allows our youth to express themselves in ways they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and every child in New Jersey deserves that opportunity.”

The first bill (A-4500) directs the New Jersey State Council on the Arts (council) to create, update and disseminate a guide containing the “best practices” for arts programs for youth at risk of juvenile delinquency.

The elements that comprise “best practices” are based on a report issued by the YouthARTS Development Project entitled, “YouthARTS Handbook: Arts Programs for Youth at Risk.”

Under the legislation, the council must provide technical and consultative assistance to any state agency, state college or public institution of higher education, county, municipality, board of education or county college that requests the assistance of the council in implementing a program following the best practices. The Council is also to send a copy of the guide to the Juvenile Justice Commission and the Division of Child Protection and Permanency in the Department of Children and Families.

The second bill (A-4501) requires the Juvenile Justice Commission (commission) to establish an arts education pilot program for juvenile offenders in New Jersey.

According to the bill, the commission would oversee the development, operation, administration and evaluation of the pilot program in consultation with the council.

The pilot program would involve the development of three model arts education programs to deliver innovative arts-based programming for juvenile offenders in detention and correction facilities during a five-year period. The state, local arts organizations, community-based agencies philanthropic entities, as well as the private sector will form an organizational partnership to create self-funded model programs.

During the initial four years of the pilot program, each model program would undergo an annual evaluation conducted by the commission. Following the program’s fourth year, the commission would submit an evaluation and recommendation on the advisability of the pilot program’s continuation to the governor.

The intention of this bill is to provide support to A-4500 in order to best provide arts education to at-risk youth.

The third part of the package, resolution AJR-159, designates the first full week of June as “Children’s Art Week” in New Jersey.

This is fitting since June is New Jersey Arts, Culture, History and Tourism Month.

The sponsors of the resolution believe art education plays a critical role in the educational curriculum necessary to develop future leaders of a global society since art is an avenue for children to communicate ideas, feelings and solutions in a way other than verbally or in writing.

The bills now head to the Speaker for further consideration.