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In Your Opinion: Franklin Teaches Children To Make A Difference

by Nancy Lacorte, Somerset.

I attended the 2015 Franklin High School commencement at Sun Bank Arena in Trenton on June 26th. I meant to send this letter sooner but I was celebrating my grandson, Lucas’ first birthday. In fact, it was looking at what the world might become as Lucas graduates high school in 17 years that made me want to write this letter. Every parent wishes they had a crystal ball to know if their child will be happy, healthy, and ready to take on the world. As a Board of Education member, and now an extremely proud grandparent, I feel we are giving our kids the tools they need to survive in the world and make a difference.

I grew up in Franklin Township, moving away for a short time, but something in Franklin called me back. I am proud to live here and to have raised my children here. I celebrate Franklin’s diversity. Over 50 languages are spoken in our homes. There are so many houses of worship from which to choose. We have active farms, million dollar homes, planned communities, active adult communities, multi-family dwellings, low-income housing, small Mom & Pop businesses, Fortune 100 businesses, so many recreational activities from the small pocket parks to Colonial Park to the beauty of the Canal. When you look at the faces of Franklin residents, all the colors of the racial palate are represented. Our neighbors have handicapping conditions or none at all. Our families are traditional, single parents, same sex couples with children, grandparents or guardians raising children, or families with no children at all.

One thing that hasn’t changed since I was a student at Middlebush School, many years ago – treat everyone as you want to be treated. Thank you to Mrs. Peterson, my kindergarten teacher for instilling that valuable lesson into me that I have tried to live my life by. Mrs. Peterson, and my parents, taught me not to look at where someone lives, not to look at the color of their skin or where they worship. She taught me not to look at whether their family has a mom and dad, two moms or dads, or a grandparent in charge. So when I looked for a nursery school for my own children I looked for one that was diverse and lived that Golden Rule that I, too, had learned. When my own children got to school I knew they never saw color, religious differences, sexual orientation, or economic situation. They saw a classmate or a friend. I am proud that Franklin has zero tolerance for discrimination.

When I talk to students or staff, regardless of the age, I always ask “What are we doing right and what can we do better?” What we can do better varies by age – no, we cannot give you a full day of recess – but some of the changes that have been made in the school have come from feedback from students, parents, or staff. The response I get to “What are we doing right” is usually a great thing to hear – we give our kids a lot of “choices”. As a parent, a Board of Education member, and now “Nana”, we try to make the right choices for our children but the most effective choices we make for others are when we have their input or their voice. Your voice doesn’t always have to be verbal. For example, if you are not learning a particular lesson we learned to change how we are teaching the lesson – differentiated learning – to make sure you learn what is being taught. We aren’t changing the lesson, we are changing the delivery.

On the stage at Sun Bank arena, I listened to the students speak about personal experiences with their classmates, a very diverse group of kids that were bound together by the blue and gold caps and gowns of that building at 500 Elizabeth Avenue where they had spent most of the last four years. I listened to Dr. DiGanci (the interim principal) talk about the school year and impart words of wisdom. Then I listened to the Board of Education president, Ed Potasnak, talk about his own experiences in high school and how he was picked on because he was different. Ironically, he had the opportunity to discuss his experiences because on the same day the Supreme Court upheld gay marriage. I was reminded earlier that day that 100 years ago women didn’t have the right to vote. It made me think of the Civil Rights movement. What Mr. Potasnak told the kids was if they saw something wrong in the world to use their voice to make a difference! He used a quote that I’ll paraphrase: If you think you are too small to be effective, you haven’t been in a tent with a mosquito.

You don’t know if anyone ever listens to a speech. I never realized that the kids actually do listen. As I stood online shaking their hands and congratulating them, I overheard a few students say to Mr. Potasnak “Thank you for your speech. It meant a lot to me.” It made me smile because at least for those kids they know we celebrate them. Those students walked away with confidence that day.

So, what will the world be like when Lucas graduates high school in 17 years? I hope that we all continue on our path of celebrating diversity; looking at differences as an opportunity to learn and not a wedge to drive us further apart. I hope voices are heard standing out against injustice and collectively looking at solutions. I hope as Lucas sits in an audience waiting to receive his diploma, he knows that the graduates of Franklin High School (including his daddy) worked hard to make a difference in his life and in the lives of others. I hope Lucas can look back on that educator (or even Board of Education president) who made a difference in his life and told him it is okay to be YOU!

I hope that Lucas will find the same tools in his “toolbox for life” that we have given our students – excellent academics and choices; celebrate diversity, it’s okay to be different; be confident in who you are; and use your voice to make a difference in the world. If you see something great happening, speak up so it continues or, conversely, if you see an injustice speak up and make a difference!

LaCorte is the vice president of the Board of Education.

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