Sit back, relax and join The Sun as we look back at Tabernacle’s exciting 2019

Many people look back on a year to see how much they’ve changed, this time, look back on the township to see what happened within 365 days

Within the blink of an eye, a year came and went just as quickly as the decade. Raise your glasses filled with your preferred choice of a liquid, clink them with a loved one and party like it’s 2020. After all, we are (almost) in a new era, but let’s remember 2019 for the news that occurred in Tabernacle Township.

Seneca High School names employees of the year

Two staff members were honored for their hard work and dedication to the school and its students for the 2019-2020 school year in February.

Educational Services Professional of the Year Terri Williams, a paraprofessional, dives into a profession she longed for and learns about each student she works with, and not just their educational levels. She added it is done so she understands a student’s likes/dislikes, interests/hobbies and who they are as a person.

“It is really hard for me to express how honored I am to receive the educational services professional of the year award. So much of what I do every day is made possible by a culmination of the hard work and dedication of so many people at Seneca,” Williams said. “Although I am the recipient of the award, I could not be successful in my job without the help of my fellow paraprofessionals. We work together and draw support from each other to contribute to the success of our students.”

Teacher of the Year Gerry Sherlock had the honor bestowed upon him as his love for history flourished in the classroom. To this day, Sherlock has kept large stacks of “thank you” cards given to him by former students, which is his personal pick-me-up when he’s going through a rough day.

“It keeps you going because you know that there are students you’ve made an impact on. That’s what the job is about,” Sherlock said. “If you’re not learning from the students, and you aren’t continuing to learn – that’s what you should be doing as a teacher.”

Tabernacle School District names employees of the year

Four educators in the kindergarten through eighth-grade school district were formally honored for the work they’ve done in their respective schools during a February Board of Education meeting.

Stacia Delaney and Ahnnalisa Regotts, teacher and educational service professional of the year, respectively, of Tabernacle Elementary School were described at the meeting for being “difference makers” for the populations they serve. Delaney, a special education teacher, was lauded as an empathetic and caring person in and outside of the classroom.

“She empowers other teachers and her students to explore the world through experiences that spark curiosity, kindness and, most importantly, empathy,” former TES Principal Gerald Paterson said.

Regotts, a speech language specialist, was commended for how she improves students’ listening and communication skills and her volunteer work to support students and the township.

Bridget Bauer and Linda Carr, educational service professional and teacher of the year, respectively, of Olson Middle School were given high praises by Principal Susan Grosser for being compassionate and warm employees.

Bauer, a guidance counselor, makes students feel comfortable to talk to her about what they’re going through, allowing her to offer advice and options for students to boost their social and emotional development.

Grosser coined Carr, a fifth-grade teacher, of being the definition of “Tiger Strong” because of Carr’s deep love for her students and willingness to support them.

Sending districts to the Lenape Regional High School District, and the district itself, address state aid cuts

Shawnee High School was the host of a multi-district forum in February, coordinated by Lenape Regional, to discuss their impact on the reduction of state aid and their sending district’s losses as well. The seven districts, with the exception of Mt. Laurel and Medford Lakes, are expected to lose a combined $24 million by the 2024-2025 school year.

A vocal critic of the sharp cuts, Evesham Township Superintendent John Scavelli Jr. stated his district has an estimated loss of $9 million in funding by the 2024-2025 school year. The district has dropped in enrollment since its 2003 peak, but ratables and residents’ wealth have risen in that time period.

Joe Del Rossi, Medford Township Public Schools Superintendent, commented if Lenape’s sending district cuts don’t get reversed, taxes would need to be raised to recuperate the loss and further cuts would need to be done in academic programs, social and emotional learning, personnel and facilities.

Southampton Superintendent Michael Harris placed himself in the front seat of the statewide coalition of districts called Support Our Students advocacy group. Members hail from more than 60 districts serving nearly 140,000 students in the state. The group, Harris said, urges residents to persuade their state lawmakers to enact a change to address their needs for equitable funding for the state’s 585 districts.

The breakdown of expected cuts are:

Evesham Township is estimated to lose about $9,003,394; Lenape Regional is estimated to lose about $8,308,946; Medford Township is estimated to lose about $1,603,435; Shamong Township is estimated to lose about $1,155,459; Southampton Township is estimated to lose about $1,141,089; Tabernacle Township is estimated to lose about $2,752,887 and Woodland Township is estimated to lose about $186,164.

For the Tabernacle School District, they are exploring options on how to save on expenditures including, but not limited to, consolidating some grades to Kenneth R. Olson or Tabernacle Elementary School and requesting to meet with the districts that send to Seneca – Shamong, Southampton and Woodland – to see if regionalizing is feasible. No board of education votes took place as of deadline to move forward. Currently, various staffing positions have to be cut to save costs on personnel.

Taxes rose as committee needed to make road improvements, school districts faced cuts

In the Lenape Regional budget for Tabernacle Township, residents saw an average annual increase of $53.56 for their regional school district taxes for a home assessed at the average value of $264,729. In the local school district taxes from Tabernacle Township, residents saw an average annual increase of $31 for a home assessed at $264,729.

Tabernacle Township Committee adopted their budget for municipal taxes, which called for a 2 percent increase per $100 of assessed home value. Residents with a home assessed at the average value of $264,729 saw an average annual increase of $52.95.

Lenape Regional honored graduates who took the oath to serve their country

Lenape Regional continued its tradition of honoring 2019 graduates who have moved on to serve in either branches of the military, military academies or join college ROTC programs. Staff, family, friends, veterans and active-duty service members gathered at Lenape High School to provide guidance to the graduates and their well wishes. From the district’s four high schools, 25 students were honored during the ceremony. From Seneca were graduates Dennis Bartholomew, William Hess, Connor Mau, Jackson Pirozzi, Vincent Riccardi and Jonah Worrell.

YMCA of the Pines changes a camp program to address societal problems

With rising incidents involving male teens and adults involving gun violence, technology addiction, opioid use, incarceration, mental health and sexual assault, YMCA of the Pines (formerly Camp Ockanickon) revamped its boys summer camp to address these societal issues.

Matt Foran, camp director, said the camp does not see the males as inherently flawed; boys are seen as “not getting what they need to fully thrive.”

His ideas came to fruition with the start of “Six Heroic Potentials,” which asked camp-goers to think about their strengths and weaknesses, and determined what qualities they are most connected with. The potentials are: ascender, elder, spirit, stargazer, storm and monk.

To learn more about the potentials and the camp program, visit YCamp.org.

‘Family’ runs deep in Seneca by money for various charities

Seneca High School is fully engrossed in the phrase they call their 1,000-plus community: Seneca Family. Each and every year, their “family” does all they can to support all who walk through the front doors to become a Golden Eagle, and there was nothing short of that this year with their numerous fundraisers to provide monetary support to past and present staff and students.

Students battled against the Red Lion Barracks of the N.J. State Police in a charity basketball game in early June. Benefits from the thunderous game went toward an unnamed scholarship fund. An estimated 35 seniors signed up to face those of the highest law in the state. More seniors were invited down to the court for halftime activities and spectators were treated to a K-9 demonstration by Absolute Control Dog Training Academy.

To the State Police’s dismay and exhaustion, seniors won 64-63 with a game-winning foul shot scored by Car Gibbs with less than a second left in the game. It is unknown how much money was raised.

Seneca Student Council members held a car wash in September to raise money for a former assistant athletic director’s daughter. Marquita Rucker, a 2004 Lenape High School graduate, is battling stage 5 kidney disease and the fundraisers help offset many of the costs of treatments and medications that Rucker’s insurance doesn’t cover. Father Fred Rucker retired from Seneca in 2014 and he commented the car wash was a reunion for him in many aspects as he saw former students there.

Students welcomed the family to the fundraiser with open arms and expressed their love for Fred and their willingness to help Marquita out. A total of $600 was donated to the family.

Mary Ann Silvers honored at Pine Barrens festival

A librarian, teacher and historian in the community, Mary Ann Silvers, was honored at the annual Pine Barrens Festival for her decades of service to help the township continue to prosper and remember its past.

Silvers’ most notable work is the creation of the highly sought-after Tabernacle Community Tree Lighting. Since its 2014 birth, Silver said attendance and participation have grown exponentially and became one of the township’s biggest events, largely due to the efforts of various civic organizations and the school district.

“I am honored to have received this award,” said Silvers. “I am very grateful for the support of the community.”

Tabernacle School District’s 2019-2020 school year came with exciting changes

Kids returned to school after a thrilling summer and throughout it, the TSD underwent changes to better communicate with parents and enhance professional development.

After months of working with a developer, a free mobile app was released in October giving parents and teachers a computer-free way to access important documents, grades, announcements, calendars and more with their Apple or Android smartphones. The new app helps the tech-savvy population be able to connect better with the district and to access information without a computer. Despite the app’s release, Robbins said text and email notifications will still go out for emergency alerts or closings so everyone is in the loop.

In September, the district hosted a professional development conference free to Tabernacle educators on how literature can be used to address mental health and empower students, among other things. Educators outside of the district were required to pay $35 to attend.

The conference came at the heels of the state departments of education and health pushing districts, especially primary school ones, to address mental health in students and provide more resources to said students.

Haunted walk continued for sixth consecutive year

The Harris family hosted another scary good haunted Halloween walk in their backyard to the amazement of many walkers. To enter the walk, the family charged one non-perishable food donation, and donations were then given to Tabernacle United Methodist Church’s food pantry.

The “Trail of Terror” has expanded since its inception to include a shed where Luke Harris and his friends scare attendees to “raise people’s heartbeats.” Despite the high scare factor of the trail, the Harris family set aside times and reservations for families with small children to walk through without being scared. Additionally, they added the function of glowing wristbands to alert them someone doesn’t want an actor to pop out at them.

“Not that many kids are trick-or-treating in this area, so this is the biggest thing happening in the area and it gives people something free to do,” Mom Louise said.

Seneca’s student-athletes transformed into Upstanders

Student-athletes taught fellow student-athletes a lesson on handling bullying and tackling implicit biases. Ten seniors participated in the training and they taught their peers how to be an Upstander, a common term throughout the district to stand up to bullying instead of watching it happen and/or ignore it. The seniors visited freshman and sophomore classrooms to help students figure out what their implicit biases are, and how to adequately address them using activities.

One of the group’s favorite activities was “dealt a card,” where students are told they have a disability, sexual orientation or some other identity in order to place them in another person’s shoes and promote discussions. Another activity included having students list what they strongly agree and disagree with, and discuss with an opposing student about said disagreements.

As student-athletes, they work to shoot down acts of bullying on their fields or courts and to offer criticism constructively.

“I play basketball and it’s not a nice sport and I have had some very derogatory things said to me, but you have to focus on what you can control,” said Nathan Roseboro. “You have to make sure you and your teammates are supporting one another.”

Teacher bestowed with a presidential award

Months of submissions and waiting for an answer led to a positive outcome for TES teacher Michael Dunlea who was named a recipient of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest honor a STEM teacher can receive in the country.

Dunlea trekked down to Washington, D.C. from Oct. 16 to 19 and heard speeches from teachers throughout the country and learned they deal with the same stressors teachers in New Jersey deal with.

“Every person in that room has been working tirelessly for their students to celebrate with others,” he added. “The most powerful thing is that you’re being treated like a rockstar because someone sees you that way.”

From the experience, Dunlea said he’ll work with the four other recipients from New Jersey to strengthen STEM studies and prepare educators and students for the future.

Resident volunteers his time for people in crisis

A six-digit number offers all of the help possible by the way of a live, human counselor for those experiencing suicidal thoughts and ideations. Stevie Stevenson does just that from the comfort of his home and to him, it’s a worthwhile experience.

“When I was a kid, I had two friends who died by suicide,” Stevenson said. “My two boys, they had a high school friend who took his own life, and a cousin who took her own life. I firmly believe that they could have been saved if we just asked.”

As a volunteer counselor with the Crisis Textline, 741-741, he talks to people via an app on his phone. The conversations, which are completely anonymous, provide people in crisis a way to talk to someone who is unaware of their life or circumstances to work with them to learn what the best course of action is.

Stevenson said he was inspired to be a volunteer after watching the textline founder, DoSomething’s CEO Nancy Lublin’s, TED Talk where she discussed DoSomething’s text campaigns, and they’d often get back messages about kids being bullied, addicted to a drug and, for her, the most troubling – “‘he won’t stop raping me…it’s my dad. He told me not to tell anyone, are you there?”

Stevenson said people are more likely, especially young adults and adolescents, to detail what they’re going through in a text rather in person because of the ease a text message brings them to type out.

To learn how to be a volunteer counselor with the Text Line, visit CrisisTextLine.org/Volunteer.

Editor’s Note: If you, or someone you know, are experiencing thoughts of suicide or need help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, the 2nd Floor Youth Helpline of N.J. at (888) 222-2228, Burlington County’s mobile crisis line at (877) 652-7624 or the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

New mentorship program launched at Seneca for its female population

Female Empowerment is brewing in the halls of Seneca as 10 students are placed in a mentorship program with faculty to help them achieve goals and work through problems they may have. The program was created by math teacher Jenn Denn to better serve the female population at Seneca.

Any sophomore, junior and senior is welcomed with wide arms into the program (freshmen are excluded due to the transition to high school). Additionally, mentors are always teachers and coaches the students do not, or will not, have during their time at Seneca. No administrators are able to be mentors. The requirements were put in place to allow students to speak freely and not feel pressured to follow through with advice provided to them.

“[The program] has helped me connect with other girls who I would have never been friends with, and are now in this group together,” student Morgan Hough said. “We’re sharing these experiences, and it’s something very special that I’m very grateful to be a part of.”

Middle school students learn about the Holocaust on a first-hand account

Classroom lessons can be hard to grasp, especially with the lack of a first-hand account, and Olson Middle School made that possible for the Holocaust unit.

Authors of “Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz” Michael Bornstein and daughter Debbie Bornstein-Holinstat presented at the middle school in late November to detail what happened to Bornstein following the Holocaust and his family’s unfortunate fates.

Bornstein and his family – mom, Sophie; dad, Israel; older brother, Samuel – were shipped off to the camp for lifelong labor or death. Israel and Samuel unfortunately were met with death in the infamous gas chambers, and Bornstein and his mom survived the events.

With the subject being at times touchy for students, the duo commonly tied it into a praise to not bully students as Bornstein was bullied when he was enrolled in a New York City elementary school. Additionally, the two work to dispel lies circulating the Holocaust was fake and staged.

“As Debbie mentioned earlier, there are some groups who will say that the Holocaust was fake and we wanted to show that it isn’t,” Bornstein added. “We’re alive and there aren’t that many survivors left from the concentration camps and we wanted to get that message across.”

Seneca graduate welcomed home from deployment in time for the holidays

As a SrA and a charismatic person in her job, Regina Iezzi was given many nicknames, but on Nov. 30, the crowd at Medford’s Ott’s called her a SHE-ro as they welcomed her home for the holidays after her deployment to Afghanistan.

Iezzi, who was flustered and humble throughout the night, was handed various certificates and tokens of appreciation from civic groups and the Burlington Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Her family is a military family with her brothers, grandfather and dad enlisting in the Army. Life took a different turn for her as she switched out of the Army and into the Air Force Reserves where she did administrative work. Home in Southampton, she attends Rowan University for pre-medicine. Where she’s going afterward, she’s unsure, but she’s happy to pursue a degree.

The 2015 Seneca High School graduate said she constantly thought about her friends who were stationed and held hope they would also be able to go home for the holidays. She is, however, excited to be home and eat a variety of foods and shower with clean water.

“You had to eat whatever they had, and so I’m excited to be able to have variety again,” she said. “I can go to the grocery store and buy whatever I want.”