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Verrelli, Mejia & Speight Bill Promoting the Arts for At-Risk Youth Now Law

Seeking to promote the arts for at-risk youth in New Jersey, legislation Assembly Democrats Anthony Verrelli, Pedro Mejia and Shanique Speight sponsored to increase exposure to art education for young people in underprivileged communities and juvenile offenders was recently signed into law.

The sponsors of the new law 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.

“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.”

The mandate (formerly 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.”

“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 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.