Inner City Schools and the School of Conservation

Jersey City Joint Activities visit the New Jersey School of Conservation to learn about the environment and themselves

JCJA students learn to work together

During the Great Depression Era of the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) came to work in Stokes State Forest.  One of the selected sites that they worked on is now known as The New Jersey School of Conservation (SOC). The CCC built the site as a potential campsite for inner city children. However, with the onset of WWII, the campus laid vacant until Memorial Day weekend in 1949, when the it finally opened, but not for the intended population. Instead of inner city children, the participants were college students from the six state colleges in New Jersey: Newark State Teachers College (now Kean College), Paterson State Teachers College (now William Paterson University), Trenton State Teachers College (now The College of New Jersey), Jersey City State Teachers College (now The New Jersey City University), Glassboro State Teachers College (now Rowan University of New Jersey), and Montclair State Teachers College (now Montclair State University).

      In 1980, the CCC’s goal would finally be fulfilled when the Jersey City Board of Education developed a program called Jersey City Joint Activities (JCJA).  Hudson county elementary schools from Jersey City were funded by a federal Emergency School Aid Act to facilitate district desegregation.  Mr. Roy Beeler was hired as the program coordinator, and began bringing approximately 900 children each year to the campus that was originally constructed to serve inner city populations like Jersey City. 

     Mr. Beeler defined the purpose of the JCJA program in a letter dated May 18, 1983, that he sent to program participants:  "The purpose of the Jersey City Joint Activities Program is to provide opportunities for the city’s youth to meet, interact, and hopefully, establish friendships.  During the past 3 years of the program’s operation, it has been determined that racial, ethnic and neighborhood barriers have been broken down for the 900 children of Joint Activities."

       The SOC experience would become one part of JCJA’s multi-dimensional program in 1983, when seventh and eighth graders from 21 public, independent, and parochial schools throughout the city, came to SOC for a 3-day residential field trip experience. 

      Comments from two participating students were printed in an article in the schools’ section of the New Jersey Herald dated December 3, 1984.  The article is titled “Kids Find Reward in Country Life.”  Lisette Cortez, from P.S. 8 explains: “I was worried that some of the black people weren’t going to talk to us, because that’s the way it happens at home.” (A-4).  Her classmate, Joanne Roblino says: “But it doesn’t happen here, because it’s fun!” When children were polled by the JCJA program as to whether they wanted to return to SOC with their own class, or with classes from other schools, participants unanimously selected returning with other schools.

      Mr. Beeler also gave his personal thoughts about the memorable events of the program in correspondence sent to SOC during the spring of 1996:  There were many – kids being turned on to the natural forest environment – many weekend workshops that sent me away inspired to save the world.  I was inspired by all of SOC’s faculty members – Jerry Schierloh, Reggie Kelly, Randy FitzGerald, Jim Merritt, and others.

       In the latest program description found on the Jersey City Board of Education’s website, www.jcboe.org , the program is described as: “An Experiential Approach to Multicultural Education.” Students from 27 different district schools are mixed together and taken on field trips together.  “They learn about the world around them, and each other.”  The program currently has several corporate sponsors.

      The website also offers a description of SOC and its role in achieving some of JCJA’s goals:  Each Joint Activity Program community of 3 district classes visits the highly esteemed New Jersey School of Conservation for a 3-day living-learning experience.  Students share cabins, meals, exciting evening activities and over 8 hours of environmental education classes and activities designed to increase their awareness of nature and how to conserve it.  The New Jersey School of Conservation is operated by Montclair State University and is staffed by professors and graduate students dedicated to the mission of saving our natural resources.

  The CCC program goal of building a campus for inner-city children, has definitely been accomplished through the participation of the JCJA’s program at SOC!