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As I travel around Toms River, one of the topics that keeps coming up is the district's budget problems. People of all ages are discussing what's at stake for kids who attend the district schools and the fact that some may possibly lose a lot of programs and opportunities.

It's a battle over state aid and how to find a working balance in the Toms River school district. I recently published an "open letter" from Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little and this weekend an area resident reached out to me to tell me about a heartfelt "open letter" just written by a Toms River school teacher and sent to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

The teacher's name is Jennifer Goodwin and after meeting Jennifer I have decided to share this with you. I hope you can share this prideful letter and hope Governor Murphy takes the time to read. It is eloquently written and shows the pride and love in the Toms River Schools. I'd also like to get creative writing classes with Ms. Goodwin as she has a way with words... well done.

November 22, 2019

Office of Governor Phil Murphy
The State House
P.O. Box 001
Trenton, New Jersey 08625

Dear Governor Murphy,

I would like you to visualize a handmade quilt. The quilt’s colors are vibrant and diverse, its texture, inviting, and after only a short amount of time spent within the confines of the quilt’s warmth, you experience a feeling that could only be described as home - a family. I’m speaking metaphorically, of course, of the Toms River Regional School District, and I am writing to you in regard to the state funding for the Toms River Regional School District.

The quilt of our school district is vibrant and alive with diversity. Our after school programs offer such an array of diversity that every student can find something that piques their interest and helps them to learn the value of extending their education beyond the school day’s hours. Our quilt provides a sense of belonging to so many of our students. Whether a student excels in competitive chess and brings the competitive edge to their after-school future business leaders meeting, or a student begins their writing career behind the screen of a computer during an after school newspaper club, or if the student’s perseverance on the field serves to help others emulate this necessary character trait for their future, the Toms River Regional School district’s after school clubs and athletic programs offer it all. And when a student can’t seem to find a club that fits their needs or wants, they are invited to create one and are fully supported by their teachers and administrators.

The quilt of our school district offers an inviting and engaging atmosphere. If you’re lucky enough to be a spectator at any of the after school sports’ programs, you’re privy to one of the most inclusive environments. The bleachers are not only lined by students proudly sporting their school colors, but family members and community members, too, share the positively contagious aura of excitement, support, and school spirit. On the field, coaches are sharing innovative plays with our students for the game while balancing these same plays with connections to the real world and real-life application; teachers are extending their science lessons into after school clubs for the students who crave more information about STEAM and the presence of and application to robotics and programming within all different fields of employment in the future; and our musically-inclined and performance-loving students are working beyond the hours of the school day with their music and theater teachers to make their first debut on stage, as a playwright, to paint or sculpt their first masterpiece, or to write and perform their very own, original songs for a school concert.

The warmth of our school district’s quilt can only be described as the feeling one experiences when they are in an environment of trust, dedication, and love - a family. One child is skipping down the hallway of an elementary school, whose after school clubs have instilled a new sense of confidence in this, once, reluctant reader; one student hears the middle school ring, and the hallways have come alive at the day’s end, and this student will be continuing their education, after school, in Monday’s weather club, Tuesday’s mathematics team, Wednesday’s history club, and Thursday’s yearbook club; another student is talking with their teammates, tearing excitedly through their sport’s bag, quickly changing into his cleats to run the bases, or slipping on a pinny for the basketball team’s first scrimmage, or lacing up sneakers to prepare for their long, but much-awaited cross country trek; and finally, there are students who are tweeting and posting hashtags about the specific attire to wear for the evening’s football game. It’s a black out, a white out, a neon out, it’s holiday-themed! These students aren’t the players; they’re the spirit section of each of our district’s high schools who cover the bleachers and are representative of the heart of our quilt - the warmth of our community - the undeniable spirit of the families of Toms River Regional Schools.

As an educator for 22 years in the state of New Jersey, I have had the pleasure of doing what I love - each and every day. I am reminded of the joy that my vocation brings to me when I leaf through a box in my home’s bookshelf. It is the letters from my students, for the past 22 years, thanking me for offering my time, not during my contractual hours, but after school: to discuss a novel with them that they were reading for pleasure during a book club; to review a routine with them for a color guard and dance competition; to prepare a synchronized dance for the school talent show; to take part in volunteering my time, after a long day of teaching, from 5:30-10:00 at night, at a football game - spirit colors on from head to toe, cowbell strung around my neck to make noise for the touchdowns, prepared and ready to cheer on the football team from the snack stands -pretzels in hand - and hand-in-hand with friends and colleagues.

In the absence of our after school programs, clubs, and sports, our district will ultimately suffer a definitive, deplorable, and depressing demise. Once again, Governor Murphy, consider the handmade quilt. If one patch of the quilt is removed, it affects the whole: your choices are affecting the whole district, the whole community, the whole child.

Thank you for your time.

Jennifer Goodwin

A teacher, a parent, an aunt, a graduate, and a community member of Toms River Regional Schools

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