Home Cinnaminson News The top stories of the year

The top stories of the year

Silhouettes of pain and a new state drink, cranberry juice

As we come to the end of 2023 and look forward to the new year, here’s a look back at the top three stories in Cinnaminson.

Photo courtesy of Erin Zarzycki
Teacher Erin Zarzycki (far right) and some of her former students visited the state capital in Trenton this summer to have their voices heard regarding an official state drink.

Drinking to students

Did you know New Jersey has an official drink? Thanks to students at Eleanor Rush Elementary School in Cinnaminson, the answer is yes.

An article titled “Fourth graders help make cranberry juice the new state drink” by Alex Murphy appeared in the Sept. 13-20 issue of the school newspaper. The state made that official in the summer.

When people think of cranberries, they may think of New Jersey. One of the U.S.’s leading manufacturers of cranberries, Ocean Spray, uses the state to export crop for various products. But before last summer, New Jersey did not have an official drink.

That all changed because of a project undertaken by Rush teacher Erin Zarzycki’s fourth grade students.

“(It is) 2019 when I first came up with the idea, because I realized it’s typically been fourth grade classes who have written to state legislators to have new state symbols passed,” the teacher explained. “We looked up all the state symbols we didn’t have that some other states might have had, and we came up with the state juice idea.”

The students wrote to state state Assemblywoman Carol Murphy to pitch the idea, mentioning benefits like job creation, economic impact and the various health benefits associated with the cranberry in their letters.

Without hesitation, Murphy and her constituents immediately latched onto the idea, a bill was proposed and the students were invited to Trenton for an in-person presentation in 2020. But COVID delayed that, and the bill was put on the back burner.

Last year, Zarzycki’s students once again emailed and sent letters to government officials, and the bill made it through the state assembly. For their work and persistence, state officials invited Zarzycki and all her students to Trenton to give an in-person presentation on their idea.

In the time between late July and early August, cranberry juice became the state’s official drink.

Photo by Kathy Chang/The Sun
“… It’s awesome to be here with all you guys, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I do this because of you,” Riley Gartland told well-wishers after earning a teaching award.

A prized teacher

Meet Riley Gartland. We featured her in our Oct. 25 to Nov. 1 issue of the Cinnaminson Sun with an article headlined, “I do this because of you,” by Managing Editor Kathy Chang.

It got pretty loud inside the gymnasium at Cinnaminson High School as colleagues, students and dignitaries cheered for teacher Riley Gartland as she made her way down the bleachers. Wiping away tears, Gartland made it into the arms of Jane Foley, vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, which named Gartland its educator award recipient on Oct. 11.

She is the first teacher in Cinnaminson to receive it.

“I think I just said earlier to some of my students, I teach math, not English, so I’m not really one for all the words,” Gartland acknowledged after hearing from former recipients of the award. “… Thank you so much.”

“I’m not super dressed for the occasion …” she added. “It’s awesome to be here with all you guys, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I do this because of you.”

At Cinnaminson High, Gartland creates a safe space for learning while setting high standards for her students. She teaches ninth, 11th and 12th-grade math. In the six years she has been in education, Gartland has already made great strides by taking the accelerated calculus program from one class of 20 to two full sections.

A role model outside of school, Gartland’s classroom is often full of students at lunch. She serves as a National Honor Society advisor, planning the induction ceremony and reception, as well as chaperoning the prom and a senior class trip to Disney World.

Gartland is also active in professional development and committed to a positive school environment. She leads the Sunshine Committee, which aims to improve teacher morale and reward her colleagues’ commitment to the school.

Gartland is one of 75 educators nationwide who got the teacher award and a $25,000 prize during the 2023-’24 academic year. She will get an all-expenses paid trip to the Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles next June and network with other winners as she gets mentorship opportunities.

The first Milken Educator Awards were presented in 1987. Created by Lowell Milken, they give public recognition to elementary- and secondary-school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country.

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun
Kathleen Coyle of Providence House places a flower at the feet of a silhouette during the Silent Witness Project Memorial for victims of domestic violence at Rowan College at Burlington County.

“I never looked back”

Lastly, we look at “It’s not your fault,” a story by Sun writer Albert J. Countryman Jr. that appeared in the Oct. 18-25 issue.

It’s a story far too common.

“He started wailing on me in the bed,” recalled Jessica Hailey, a domestic violence survivor and guest speaker at the Silent Witness program on Oct. 6. “I was his punching bag and I felt like he was going to kill me. I told my co-worker where I would be buried if he did, and I planned my escape.”

Hailey applied for her own apartment the next day.

“There was an opening several weeks later,” she recalled. “I took the key and never looked back.”

Hailey cried for a month before someone told her about Providence House, where counselors ensured her, “It’s not your fault.” Those words “drove me to get my life back with help from the staff at Providence House,” Hailey said of that organization’s help and support for victims of domestic violence.

“They are amazing.”

But not all victims get their lives back, as evidenced by the silhouettes of Burlington County residents who were killed by an abuser and displayed in the Student Success Center of Rowan College at Burlington County.

Tears were shed by the audience of more than 100 people when Florence Township police officer Michelle Koroseta sang a memorial song and Amy Congdon, Victim Witness Unit Supervisor for the county prosecutor’s office, read out the silhouetted names during the Silent Witness Project Memorial:

Missy DeBellis, Theresa Krawiec, Jodie Myers, Lauren Nobel, Jennifer Pheiffer, Misty Ramos, William “Mike” Seidle, Jessica Tush, Alla Barney, Marci Bucynski, Justina Bullock, Michelle Cazan, Erik Cole, Daniel “DJ” Cruz Jr., Nicole Hike, Erica Crippen, Cynthia Fortune, Shanai Marshall, Felicia Dormans, Lorraine Arsenault, Tianna Drummond, Artoria “Dee” Frazier and Sheila Maguire.

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