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School-based youth programs in jeopardy

Reduced state funding puts them at risk

Funding for essential youth programs in Bayonne schools is at risk.

As the school year starts virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, critical state funding could be cut.

“I would like to inform our community that the School Based Youth Services Programs (SBYSP’s) that are offered in our schools are currently in great jeopardy of being eliminated due to a reduction of funding we receive from the State of New Jersey,” Superintendent John Niesz wrote in a letter to the community.

Making a positive impact

The SBYSPs are on site in 90 New Jersey high schools and middle schools, including in Bayonne. Each SBYSP is customized to coordinate with existing resources in each school and community.

Among the programs funded through the office are mental health counseling, employment counseling, substance abuse prevention, suicide prevention, pregnancy prevention, and sexual assault prevention.

Open to all youth, SBYSPs operate before, during, and after school. Their main goals are to make a positive impact on students’ social and emotional development, academic success, and vocational and college prep.

According to Niesz, New Jersey’s program is recognized across the nation as a model for how to reach at-risk youth who refuse to participate in other social services or otherwise slip through the cracks.

“Now with the proposed 2021 budget, that program is on the chopping block,” Niesz said.

Time for a public outcry 

Gov. Phil Murphy’s revised 2021 budget proposes nearly $12 million in cuts to the Office of School Linked Services within the Department of Children and Families.

“Even during the pandemic, with all schools closed, the Bayonne SBYSP staff has kept in touch with these youth,” Niesz said. “So, whether a school is all-virtual, hybrid, or in-person, SBYSPs are equipped to continue providing students with mental health counseling, skills-building groups, and positive social connection with their peers.”

The State Legislature can restore SBYSP funding but only if it hears a resounding response from constituents.

Niesz urged everyone who believes in supporting these life-saving model programs to contact their local members of the State Assembly and Senate, and the governor.

“The Bayonne SBYSP is one of the most important tools we have to address all of our students’ emotional and mental health needs,” Niesz said.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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