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TRuths of TR Our students Our community Our stories

Inspired by Humans of New York, TRuths of TR is a student-driven photography and writing project. Each week, on this web page and on the district's Instagram, we will feature a student photograph and subsequent personal story. The mission of the project is to highlight the diversity of this district and community; share the untold stories of people we might blindly pass in the hallways every day; and expose the talents, struggles, thoughtfulness, and personalities of people we call friends, peers, classmates, or strangers.

TRuths of TR is district-wide program promoted by the Equity team at High School East, and is overseen by Assistant Principal Richard DeMarco and World Language teacher Christie Urgola. They hope you will fall in love with these students and their stories the way they have, and that through these stories we may discover just how connected we all are. Eventually, the project hopes to expand to include submissions from parents, community members, and the adults in our schools. For now, we welcome you on this journey with us to share our TRuth.

If you're a Toms River Regional Schools high school student, complete this form to submit a feature for TRuths of TR.

Ms. Eleneski, High School North

Growing up as the oldest kid, I was a perfectionist, overachiever, and argued so often with my parents that my mom always told me I should be a lawyer. I wanted to make my parents proud and be a good example for my brothers (and I thought--wow, I could be a lawyer? Me? So fancy!), so I went to law school. I thought it was my destiny, and I would graduate and change the world. I got what I saw as my "dream" job and worked hard every day. But about seven years in, I realized ... I wasn't happy. I felt burnt out. I was tired. Something was missing but I wasn't sure what. I just kept thinking, is this it? Really?

Meanwhile, I decided to volunteer as a mock trial coach for a local high school. On the day of the competition, I got to watch the students compete and see how far they had come. I was SO proud of them and watching the competition, I had this lightbulb moment--people get to do this every day. Specifically, teachers. Teachers get to encourage students, help them grow and learn, mentor them to be the best they can be. Teachers get to be proud like that every day. An idea was growing in my brain, but I was afraid to say it out loud at first. Would my family be disappointed? What about my husband? We had so much student loan debt because of my choice to go to law school. What about all my coworkers--would they judge me? Was I just giving up after working so hard to get to where I was?

Fast forward a few years, and you know how the story ends--I teach at High School North now! It's the best decision I ever made to become a teacher. My first day was nerve wracking but I felt so ... fulfilled. My heart was so happy. Three years in, and every single day I'm grateful I made the change. I like to use my experience to teach my students a valuable lesson--be you, be happy, and don't be afraid to make a change if something doesn't feel right. Change is scary but that's okay. You're worth it. You deserve your happy ending, even if you change your mind about what that looks like.

Published Aug. 4, 2021

Lauren, High School South

My dad is a member of the United States Air Force, and sometimes he goes away for long periods of time. My dad has gone to other states like Alaska and Hawaii and he’s also traveled to other countries like Japan, and Guam. One time when I was younger, my dad left for a month. I was really having a rough time. So my mom-mom came over with three lobsters cause she knows how much I love seafood and that cheered me up a lot. Another time my dad went away and missed my birthday, but when I was in school I got a call from the office. They said that my dad mailed me a present. I was so excited. I brought the box back to class and opened it. In the box was a teddy bear with the uniform my dad wore for work. I remember bursting into tears because I missed him so much. Then, at the end of last year my dad had to leave at Christmas time for two months to go to Guam. My dad left after Thanksgiving and came back after the Super Bowl, and it was the longest he had ever been away. I hate when my dad goes away because all the responsibilities fall on my mom. My mom works, takes care of me and my four siblings (I have an older brother who is away at college too) and she even serves on the Board of Education. To get our minds off my dad leaving, we would hang out with my cousins or play with my puppy that I got for Christmas. I know that my dad will have to go away again, and no matter what, it will always feel like something is missing when he is away.

Published June 3, 2021

Fortunato, High School South

My truth is my relationship with my grandmother. I like to think about her, but am sad to think about her. I called her Noni; I am not sure how she got the nickname, it was something we called her since we were young. Noni called me ‘little forty’ because I am the youngest and ‘forty’ comes from my first name, Fortunato. Noni was the one person who could understand my point of view and would listen to my problems. A couple of years ago in elementary school, I was having a hard time with other students. I wanted to be the cool kid. I wanted to impress the cool kids. But instead I would do things like mess up in basketball and they would call me names. I went to Noni to tell her about it, and she told me that I had to cut them out and focus on school. Noni taught me that you can’t worry about what other people say about you. My mom, my dad and newborn sister moved in with Noni when I was three years old. There are some people out there that barely get to see their grandma but I got to see mine every day. The smallest things with Noni like watching a movie or going to lunch could be a whole day's worth of excitement. You would have to meet her to understand but Noni was always positive and never let anything get in the way. Noni was truthful and humble. Noni put other people first, especially our family. Sadly, Noni passed away in December of 2018, and she is missed very much. To me, Noni was the one person that I had, that would be there forever, and now that she is gone I haven’t been the same.


Rebecca, High School East

Over Christmas break, I lost my grandmother due to complications with COVID-19. I never met either of my grandfathers because they both died before I was born. In fact, the only loss I ever experienced that I could remember before this, was the death of my first dog, which hurt, but is nothing compared to an actual person that you love. So, my grandmother’s passing was the first death that taught me that people you love really do die; that loss does happen and that it can be sudden. For the last five years, grandma lived in an assisted living facility. But she would always come and celebrate the holidays with us and sometimes we would go to visit her. It would be an adventure - we would drive three hours up north and go out to fancy dinners, where we would all be dressed up. It was my family making sure we spent time together. I would tell her about school and we would talk. Grandma would always have Werther’s Originals in her purse next to the chocolate mints (like the ones you’d get from Olive Garden) that she always saved for my sister and I. Visits like these were more special when you didn’t get to see someone as often and then you do special trips just for them. I remember vividly, I was having a good day, it was Christmas break, when my father sat my sister and I on the couch to tell us what had happened. I could not believe it. There was no warning. She was in assisted living, but she wasn’t sick. She was nearing 100, but she was healthy, and then all of a sudden, she just died. I’m the type of person who cries when reading a book or watching a movie about characters I don’t know, so I wasn’t prepared to lose a real person that I love. Going to the funeral, seeing her there, it had finally set in, that she was going to be gone forever.

Published May 5, 2021

Mrs. Taylor, High School South

I was born in Newark, NJ and moved to Toms River in the 4th grade. I went from a big city and small private school with one class of each grade, to a much smaller town with a much bigger school, East Dover Elementary. I had to make new friends, get used to public school, and become adjusted to living in the suburbs. It wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t hard.

My parents did everything in their power to build a better life for me and my brother, and later for my sister who was born in TR. Dad was a Newark cop and Mom was the homemaker. We lived paycheck to paycheck. I couldn’t always go to the movies or shopping at the mall. My clothes were from Kmart and Bradlees, instead of Macys and Benaton. But, we always had food on the table and a roof over our heads. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard.

At Toms River HS East, I was a good athlete and a good student. I was a county champion and state place winner on the track. I played the viola in several orchestras. I was a Girl Scout Silver Award recipient. I was a member of a High Adventure Explorer Post. I did all of this while getting mostly straight A’s and graduating near the top of my class. Accomplishing all of this wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard.

The craziness of high school afforded me the opportunity to attend the University of Pennsylvania where I was no longer at the top in track & field or in the classroom. I wasn’t even average. I was barely passing my classes and not placing in track meets. I had to learn time management. I had to learn the responsibility of living away from home. I had to grow up. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard.

I started teaching when I was 21 years old. I coached track and field, too. There was a lot of juggling and a lot of growing up. Over the years I worked with elementary students, middle school students, and high school students. I had to keep adapting. I had to keep learning in order to keep teaching. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard.

Published April 28, 2021


Ten years into my teaching career at Toms River HS South, I started to build a family. I married. I suffered a miscarriage. I had two beautiful children. We had arguments. We didn’t always agree. We worked through it. We took care of each other. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard.

Three years ago, my grandmother passed away. She was in her nineties and she was ready. Therefore, I was ready. The thing I wasn’t ready for, was the passing of my mother less than a week later. It was unexpected. It was awful. It altered my world. I never knew pain like this existed. It was excruciating. It was all encompassing. It was life changing. For the first time, LIFE WAS HARD.

But, life doesn’t end when it gets hard. We have to grow and learn and sometimes look really hard to find beauty, and it may not be easy. So, I started to live my days looking for beauty. Sometimes I find it in a song that I know would have made my mom dance. Sometimes I find it looking at my son’s freckles that are just like my mom’s. Sometimes I hear the beauty in the private conversations my daughter has with her “nana in the clouds”. Sometimes the beauty comes from my students who give me a smile just when I need it or from their expressions when I know the lesson just clicked. Lately, I don’t have to look as much. Often the beauty is just there, waiting for me to see it. Everyone can see the beauty if they look for it. It isn’t always easy, but it isn’t hard. 

Part II published April 29, 2021

Jervin Sevilla

Jervin Sevilla, High School North

In the past decade and a half, I never really had any true long-term friendships. Even though I had neighbors with a Filipino ancestry like me, my family hasn't really allowed me to socialize with them. I ended up attending a different elementary school than my neighbors and older sister. For the first three and and half years there, my classmates were special education students on the autism spectrum. In the latter half of 3rd grade, I was given the opportunity to be in a class of general education students, but an incident halfway through 4th grade sent me back to full-time special education. I persevered. I gradually was reintroduced to general education classes and had even learned to play the clarinet. By the end of elementary school, I had realized that most of my elementary school friends will not be at my next school. In intermediate school I had more classmates and I also saw the introduction of peers who had comparable mathematical abilities to me, which are colloquially called mathletes. In the terminal year of middle school, I had an established group of classmates that were there for me in all my academic classes, and I finally got a foothold on social media, using it as a secondary means of communication. I have attended two high schools; one for much of 9th grade, and the other I still attend today. The first high school I attended included many students I have never met before; I would lose in-person contact when I transferred schools, but many were still available online. Tenth grade seemed to be the apex of my relationships, when I settled on a true love, and a pandemic hit. Stuck at home, the only way I could contact almost all of my friends was by phone or online. The new normal has made me look to online communities for social interaction. I still do so today, when the effects of COVID are still lingering around.

Published April 21, 2021

Paige, High School North

Most of what I have learned about my mom has been through pictures and stories from other family members. Her name was Kimberly. She was creative. She loved to draw. She had a huge black-eyed Susan tattoo in honor of my great-grandmother, whose name was Kathy. Inside the tattoo there was a butterfly (she loved butterflies too), and a ladybug. The ladybug was in honor of my grandmother, whose name was Lori, but we called her Scubbie. One of my earliest memories of my mom was our trip to Disney when I was four years old. In the hotel room, in the top drawer of the dresser, there was a Finding Nemo figure set. Dory, one of the main characters in Finding Nemo, is like me; trying to find the parts of ourselves that we lose. We went on the vacation with my mom’s brother, my aunt and my older cousin. It was our last trip together. My mom ended up leaving us that same year. As a small child, I knew she was gone but I couldn't understand she was gone forever. One memory from her funeral that I often think about is the memorial board at the front of the room, all of the photographs that held traces of a life well-lived. There was one photo on the board that stands out in particular. My mom was wearing two party hats on her head, like horns, and she was beaming from ear to ear. I wish I could see that radiant smile in person today. Many people say their mom is the most beautiful woman they know, mine just happens to be the most beautiful woman I've never known. She was a kindergarten teacher, and while I never had the opportunity to grow up learning from her, she still left me with the most important life lesson. Like Dory from Finding Nemo, even when someone you love is lost, they are never completely gone. I see this lesson in the way my grandpa chokes up every time he mentions her, and the way my family celebrates her life, even after she has passed. My grandpa got a tattoo as a way of honoring my mom. The tattoo is from a photograph of my mom and I, it’s a silhouette of my mom reaching out to grab my hand on the beach and the water is in front of us. I know she is still reaching out to me now. My mom taught me that life is fleeting, but love lasts forever. Mom, you will always be my greatest teacher. I love you.

Kiley Madigan

Kylie, High School North

Growing up I always wanted to be like everyone else. I thought if I didn’t look a certain way or act like the popular kids, I wasn’t worthy of doing what they did and having what they had. So, for a long time, I isolated myself from things I wanted to do, and in doing so I began to feel lonely and not like myself. I would try so hard to be like others. I would say to myself, “What would she say right now?” or “Would they wear that?” There is a feeling of helplessness that comes with knowing you can never be the people you try so hard to become. I was in the background of my own life, not enjoying anything around me. Then, one day I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that this wasn’t the life I wanted to be living, that trying to be other people, meant not being myself. After that day, I began changing myself for the better. Instead of saying to myself, “Would she wear that or would she do that?” I would say, “What do I want?” Each day, I was working on myself. I was wearing what I wanted to wear. I was joining things I felt passionate about. Finally, I was acting like myself, I was being Kylie; which meant not acting at all. Eventually, I stopped worrying about what other people thought and I realized that no one really cared anyway, the self-doubt was just something I created in my mind. Looking back, I wish I didn't feel that way sometimes. But the truth is, if I didn’t first try to be like others, then maybe I wouldn’t have worked as hard as I did on myself, and maybe I wouldn’t have found out who I truly am. 

Published March 24, 2021

Cody, High School East (Class of 2020)

Throughout my life I have experienced hardships that have fueled me to be who I am today. I didn’t have a “traditional” childhood. My family was often homeless, living in a shelter or even a car. In spite of this, I didn’t allow my circumstances to bring me down or define me. In fact, the hardships created an energy within me to “get out” and be successful. I am still trying to figure out what being successful is, but I know I am on the right path.

My path started in elementary school, in a class for students with invisible learning disabilities. I discovered that I have a gift for connecting with and being able to support special education students. Little did I know that at ten years old, I had already found the passion that would help shape my future/career. In tenth grade, I was given the opportunity to become the youngest Community Action Program (CAP) student at High School East. CAP allowed me to earn credits toward graduation while assisting in our Autism Academy. While working in the Autism Academy I started to realize that my peers needed me as much as I needed them. Not only did I have the honor of helping the students with their education, at the same time they were helping me become the person I am today. The students created a positive energy within me. Whatever was wrong in the world - it was my work with these students that brought me through it. I knew I wanted to continue on this path after high school graduation.

Fast forward to today. I am a paraprofessional at High School East just three months after graduation and I am continuing to pursue my road to success. I wake up every morning in a healthy environment, thanks to a good friend who has given me stability. I go to work where I find peace and satisfaction in what I do everyday. I want to encourage everyone, regardless of their circumstances to fight for what they want and to believe in themselves. I never gave up the thought that I deserved to be successful.

Published March 17, 2021


Essence, High School North

I always had a very hard time believing in myself and sometimes I would even compare myself to others. I remember one day I was in my acting class at ActorsPlayground. I was new and I was very nervous about performing. Everyone seemed so good, and all I could think of was how I could never be as good as them. I was swallowed by my own self doubt. I started to cry. My acting teacher, Ralph Colombino came up to me. He told me that people who think they’re the worst, tend to come out the best! Ralph told me that he believes in me.

Looking back, I never really knew then how much Ralph's words would impact me today. Sometimes it's the little actions of people that we carry on in our hearts. Ralph's words did that for me. It was his kindness and the greatness of his heart that helped to make me, my now confident self. Of course I still doubt myself sometimes, don't we all? But I am always reminded of Ralph's words. Ralph's words helped me to improve my communication with my family as well. I am so happy to have my family and my AP family to turn to.

Published March 10, 2021