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Three student leaders speak as part of icebreaker activities during the initial meeting for TR United Feb. 23.

TRPD Helps Mentor Student Leadership Group

Feb. 23, 2022-- High School North today hosted the first ever meeting of TR United, a cohort composed of students from grades 6-12 who have been identified as leaders by someone within their school.

The initiative-- which has been developed over the course of months by district leaders-- seeks to foster student voices; further identify and secure positive mental health supports; promote equitable opportunities and outcomes; and create a group of change agents interested in impacting the future of Toms River Regional Schools.

"We want and quite frankly need our students to play an active and engaged role in shaping the immediate and long-term future of this district," said Assistant Superintendent Cara DiMeo. "TR United is evidence of just how many incredible students we have here, and it's our job as adults to not only listen to them, but to provide them the mentorship and resources to take on leadership roles within their schools and communities."

DiMeo is one of several TR United mentors, a group that also includes High School North Assistant Principal Heather DeGrandis; Citta Elementary School Principal Shannon Brown; HSN science teacher Jennifer Huey; Director of 6-12 Curriculum Adrienne Gold; and Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little.

The initial meeting kicked off with students identifying and sharing personality traits which they feel have influenced their lives. From there, icebreaker exercises asked students about their favorite genres of movies and how their days were going, enabling them to walk around, talk to one another, and learn what they did and did not have in common. Ultimately, this type of openness, honesty, and acceptance will lead students to drive the big-picture conversations about the direction of their schools and their education.

"I'm really looking forward to starting a dialogue," said Brown, "and hearing from you, about what we're doing well, and what you can help us do better."

A core facet of the meeting's agenda was exploring and establishing group norms. Because, for example, the age ranges varied from 11 to 18, part of the day's work involved using language and ideas that were appropriate for all ages present, as well as honoring group norms such as staying on task and topic, listening, participating with respect and tactfulness, and using sentence starters to guide conversation.

DeGrandis, who noted that the TR United concept began with TRPD and is now evolving from within the schools, said to students, "We want to make sure all of your needs are being met." She also encouraged students to take the lessons they'll learn through TR United out into the world.

"That sense of community, and commitment to leadership, doesn't stop when you close the school doors," she said.

The meeting culminated with a presentation-- during pizza, much to students' delight-- from Chief Little, who spoke about the origins of TR United, its impact on the Toms River Police Foundation, and how students can work alongside local leaders to build a stronger community, and make Toms River a better place to live.

All in all, it was a positive, free-flowing, and engaging start to a long-term initiative which promises to live up to its name.

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