Students at Williamstown Middle School have created more than 50 tie blankets that a mobile response unit will give to families in crisis.
The Monroe Township Education Association provides a public-school grant to the Williamstown district each year. This year, seventh grade science teacher Janet Mead was asked to find a way to use the grant that could incorporate a lesson in empathy for students.
The grant this year enabled Mead to buy all of the blanket fabric, as well as snacks and drinks for the students who signed up to participate. More than 50 blankets were created by students and given to the Acenda Behavioral Health Mobile Response Unit to deliver.
Along with the RISE (Respect, Integrity, Self-Control and Empathy) program, the schools have also introduced social and emotional learning into the everyday curriculum. The program helps students develop healthy relationships with staff and creates a positive school environment.
“We have had this program for a long time called RISE, and the hardest thing out of those to teach is empathy,” Mead explained. “Obviously the kid on the other end is going to love this, but when you take it home and make it (a blanket) with your family, it shows empathy for someone else.
“I am trained to teach science and biology and I don’t have a psychological background to figure out what all this means,” she added, “but I know that it makes you feel good when you do something for someone.”
Laurie Spears, program coordinator for Children’s Mobile Response at Acenda, is grateful for the donations, which she thinks will enhance their program and the support they give the children.
“I really liked the blankets for part of our program,” Spears said. “Every time a child is removed from their home by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency for any type of abuse or neglectful situations, they are placed in a resource home or with a family member. At this time, they automatically get our services … I like the idea of bringing the blankets with us on all of those dispatches.”
The mobile response unit sees more than 250 kids a month who may be in crisis or in need of mental-health services. About 20 to 30 of the calls end with a child being removed from his or her home. Acenda currently covers Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem counties and offers short term services for eight weeks before placing the family or child in a long term situation.
“When we do these kinds of check-ins, we bring things to engage the kids,” Spears noted. “We bring coloring books and crayons for younger kids or a journal with a fancy pen for a preteen. This is something we could use for a 9-year-old girl who is having some anxiety. We can grab that blanket for her.”