Last year, Gov. Jim McGreevey passed a law that encouraged local towns and school districts to do something about youth violence in schools and communities.
The Violence Awareness Act forced town and school leaders to examine the troubles that teenagers could find if they got involved with the wrong crowd. McGreevey believed that with the proper education, both in the classroom and at home, perhaps potentially-troubled kids might lead respectable lives.
The growing popularity of street gangs and violence has drawn its share of concern in North Bergen. Even if there isn't a problem right now, there is always the possibility that some kids can fall by the wayside and get entangled with the wrong crowd.
With that in mind, the North Bergen High School's SARP (Student Assistance Resource Program) is conducting a free seminar for parents to learn about the warning signs when a child is getting involved in either violent behavior or possibly street gangs.
Tuesday night, at the high school cafeteria beginning at 6 p.m., the SARP program will kick off School Violence Awareness Week with a seminar to tell parents about the warning signs that their children could, in fact, be headed for trouble.
"It will give the parents a better understanding about violence, enable parents to recognize the warning signs, and inform parents of the preventative measures they can take to keep their children from getting involved," said John Belluardo, the supervisor of the SARP program. "We made violence awareness a major topic within our district."
Three guest speakers
There will be three guest speakers at the seminar. First, John Monroe, an assistant professor at St. Peter's College, will discuss the topic of bullying and how children can go to find help if they feel they are being bullied.
Then, Sgt. Boze Bozicevic of the North Bergen Police Department, who specializes in gang activities within the department's Juvenile Division, will discuss all the warning signs of gang activity, like certain clothing and graffiti "tags" that are spray-painted around town in a sign of gang unity.
Finally, Bill Farraghar, a motivational speaker and moderator of the New Jersey Conflict Resolution Program, will speak about how parents can speak to their children about possible violence and gang activity.
"We feel that it's a very important topic and it is a prevalent topic throughout the state of New Jersey, not just locally," Belluardo said. "It's important that parents keep the lines of communication open with their children."
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco agreed.
"Gangs are now widespread and parents have to be made aware of it," Sacco said. "Children are being recruited to join these gangs all the time, not just here, but in the suburbs as well. It's a growing trend and a nationwide problem. Parents have to be aware of many things, the colors of the clothing they wear, their hairstyles. The parents have to be the first line of defense."
Sacco, who also serves as the assistant superintendent of schools for the district, said that he met with school administrators last week to address the situation in further detail.
"It's one thing for the schools to know, but it's so important for the parents to know as well," Sacco said. "This seminar is the first step toward educating the parents."
"The parents have to be made aware of it and then have to better communicate with their children," Belluardo said. "A lot of parents don't realize that it can happen. This is more of a preventative thing, so they know what to look for, like graffiti, stereotypical dress, the colors of the clothing. There are a lot of local gangs and with the assistance of the police department, we're working to make the public aware."
The seminar is free of charge and welcomes all North Bergen residents, especially those who are the parents of school-aged children.