Pleasantville is trying to improve perceptions of the city with the help of 20 local high school seniors who are working with the mayor on revitalization projects.
Two programs were introduced recently at Pleasantville High School, a student liaison initiative and student ambassador program involving students from Teen Pep, the school’s sexual awareness and education program.
“I want the opportunity to tell the Board of Education about some of the good things we do. All they know about is our test scores and grades, but I want to tell them about all the good things we do outside,” said Arizandy Guzman, 17, one of the new student liaisons to the Board of Education. She cited student participation in blood drives, donation drives and trips to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission as examples of activities that should receive more notice.
Guzman and her peers, Neil Peters and Julia Monroe, were selected — with Monroe as an alternate — to serve as liaisons to the school board.
“I wish I could select them all,” high school Principal Stephen Townsend said at the Oct. 23 school board meeting, when the programs were first announced.
The liasons will attend school board meetings and prepare reports for board members. They will serve as a voice for the student body, drawing attention to the concerns of students and informing the board of school activities.
The student ambassador program is an emerging partnership between City Hall and Teen Pep students that aims to revive the city and dig into its historical roots, said Effie Jenkins-Smith, director of educational services.
One of the ideas is a mural in a central area that depicts the city’s links to the fishing industry, and images of historic trolleys that used to travel through the area, she said.
The idea of the ambassador program came about at the Pleasantville Youth and Family Conference, an event that celebrated its 20th year Oct. 20. A workshop was set up for students that involved role-playing, including a the roles of mayor, business administrator, marketing official and historian.
The students’ ideas from the workshop caught the attention of Mayor Jesse Tweedle, who met with the students and was excited to expand the brainstorming session into a new program with the school, Jenkins-Smith said.
Tweedle said some of the ideas he heard were things that those whom he works with at City Hall have never thought of.
“They know there is something wrong out there,” Townsend said of the students.
Tweedle and Jenkins-Smith have been discussing the city’s revitalization for about four years. It seems this year some ideas will come to fruition, with the help of the students, Jenkins-Smith said.
Guzman said she hears negative perceptions from friends in other cities about the school and community. With crime and violence a norm in the community, Guzman said she knows that the tension between different racial groups are a factor. But the differences stay outside the school’s perimeters, thanks in part to the efforts of Townsend, who is able to handle the student body, she said.
“It’s cool because it’s a change of the image of Pleasantville,” Guzman said. She said she feels a lot of the negativity also comes from residents who are former dropouts from the schools, or the number of teen mothers at the school, which has its own daycare on the premises.
“I would like to set another image. It’s not fair that you are just judging people without knowing them,” Guzman said.
Instead, Guzman hopes people can start seeing Pleasantville as a destination, rather than a town to pass through between Atlantic City and Egg Harbor Township.
“We don’t have anything, besides people, the school and the cemetery,” Guzman said. The only destination within the city is the Kmart, she said.
The position of a student liaison to the school board has existed in the district previously.
Guzman is excited about the reinstatement and having been selected for the position. She is motivated to change the “bad image we have,” she said. Before she leaves for college, the senior wants to be able proudly say she came from Pleasantville.
She said, “I want people to be like, ‘Oh, Pleasantville? I heard you guys came from bad to good.’ I don’t want them to think, ‘Oh she’s one of those students.’”
“The students’ ideas are great and match what the city is thinking. It helps to have the confirmation from the youth,” Jenkins-Smith said.
Contact Anjalee Khemlani:
Follow @AnjKhem on Twitter