HomeWilliamstown NewsThe top stories of the year

The top stories of the year

A teacher's memory flowers, special needs facility breaks ground

As we come to the end of 2023 and look forward to the new year, the Williamstown Sun looks back at the top three stories that stood out this year in the township.

Kathy Chang/The Sun
Matthew Stavola places a rock around the flowering plum tree dedicated to his wife Lauren. Holly Glen Elementary School Principal Karen Pontano-Crossley described how the late teacher touched lives in the community.

Flowering memory

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A flowering plum tree outside Holly Glen Elementary School now signifies the life of a beloved teacher who died in February.

The Sun attended a moving ceremony in her honor and featured it in a May story headlined “‘Big smile, beautiful red hair and hugs,'” by Kathy Chang.

Lauren Stavola was just 45 when she passed away after a long career at the school. She was known for her sense of fun as a special-education instructor and art teacher.

“Throughout Mrs. Stavola’s career at Holly Glen School, she touched the lives of so many in the community,” Principal Karen Pontano-Crossley said.

The school community – along with the Stavola family members Matthew, her husband, and daughters Marissa and Brynn – came together on April 28 to pay tribute to Stavola with an assembly and tree planting in recognition of Arbor Day.

“The tree planted is a flowering plum tree, which will continue to symbolize the love we have in our hearts for our fun-loving, creative former Holly Glen art teacher, Mrs. Stavola, who left us unexpectedly,” Pontano-Crossley noted.

“Although we greatly miss Mrs. Stavola, we want this special event to be a tribute to her as an innovative educator,” the principal added. “As we stand here today, our hearts are still filled with sadness. However, knowing Mrs. Stavola, she would want today to be all about us and our dedication to education as a school community.”

The tree planted was donated by the Shaw family, whose matriarch noted how much the late teacher’s love of art education impacted her daughter Aubrey, a third grade student at Holly Glen.

At the end of the assembly, the fourth-grade chorus sang “Stand By Me,” and staff, students and family headed outside to place decorated, colorful rocks around the plum tree.

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun
Michael Givens (center), a student in Deptford’s Adult Center for Transition program, symbolically throws a shovel of soil during groundbreaking ceremonies for 24 special-needs housing units at Rowan University.

An answer for parents

One of the biggest fears of parents with special-needs children is who will take care of the kids when they die. Officials in Gloucester County and Rowan College of South Jersey allayed those fears as they broke ground on the first Academy for Neurodiversity on Oct. 25.

The Sun featured the groundbreaking in the November story “‘Where’s my child going to go when I’m not here?'” by Albert J. Countryman Jr.

Rowan’s Deptford campus is already home to the Adult Center for Transition (ACT) program, which affords young adults with disabilities the vocational, educational and social skills to become independent and contributing members of society. The academy is expected to enhance that mission by providing housing, employment services, workforce training, sports, education, health care and legal services for clients.

“What we have created with the Academy for Neurodiversity is a unique collaborative program that should be a national model for integrating lifelong services for the developmentally disabled,” said former state Senate President Steve Sweeney at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Residences at South College Drive.

“In a single location, we offer multiple levels of education and workforce training, medical, mental health and behavioral services, legal advocacy, transportation, athletics and recreation, and today, we did the groundbreaking for an on-site housing complex,” added Sweeney, who shed a few tears as he referenced a apartment complex for the disabiled. His daughter Lauren has Down syndrome.

“Parents think, ‘Where’s my child going to stay when I’m not here?'”

The three-story complex will provide one-bedroom, rent-supported units with a community room, lounges, laundry facilities and office space for an on-site counselor of special services, according to Kimberly Gober, executive director of the Gloucester County Housing Authority.

The project is being funded with $7.365 million in National Housing Trust Funds and $3.75 million in grants from Gloucester County.

Courtesy of Brycen Pedrick
Brycen Pedrick’s love of flying began at a young age. He is now an instructor at Crosswinds Flight School in Williamstown.

Sky’s the limit

Finally, we feature Brycen Pedrick’s love of flying, which has come full circle.

His journey has been featured in the Sun papers for a few years now. We caught up with him in the November story “For the love of flying” by Kathy Chang.

Pedrick teaches others to fly as an instructor at the Crosswinds Flight School at Crosskeys Airport in Williamstown, the airport from which he made his first general aviation flight and his first instructional flight with the Civil Air Patrol.

“I do enjoy seeing my students become more proficient as time goes on and rely on me less and less while flying,” he explained. “Whether it’s a student making their own radio calls or they land the plane themselves without my assistance, it’s nice to see their growth and progress of becoming a pilot.”

Pedrick’s duties as a flight instructor include promoting general aviation and teaching ground knowledge that includes federal aviation regulations, aerodynamics and weather theory.

Pedrick was eager to earn his pilot’s license from the time he was a young boy. He graduated from Williamstown High School in 2019, when he was awarded the Brigadier General Billy Mitchell Award and the Amelia Earhart Award from the Civil Air Patrol. The recognition secured his interest in flying.

Pedrick graduated from the university earlier this year with a Bachelor of Science degree in aviation management after getting an associate’s degree in aviation flight. After completing the four-year program, he finished training to become a certificated flight instructor.

Pedrick’s flying plans did not stop there. In the short term, he plans on getting a CFII (Certificated Flight Instructor Instrument) certificate so he can prepare students for an instrument rating to fly in low-visibility conditions and clouds.

“Later, if possible, I plan on diversifying my flight experience, so I wouldn’t mind flying skydivers,” he explained.


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