The ZONE is Back in Action at DMAE

Amidst the global pandemic that’s keeping the nation on its toes, another battle has been fought and won on our campus: the fight to keep The ZONE operating for the DMAE community. The ZONE is a pillar of strength and resources for students and has been a staple on the DMAE campus for years. It is a School Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP) that aids students with overall youth development. 

In August, it was announced that all SBYSPs in the state of New Jersey would be left without funding and eliminated by September 30, 2020. However, the state revised its budget to re-include funding for SBYSPs in the 2021 fiscal year after much political action on the part of students, teachers and community supporters. 

The ZONE has always been involved with all the students so I’m glad that they can continue to be a constant support group.”

— Maya Magnuski

“The ZONE has always been involved with all the students so I’m glad that they can continue to be a constant support group,” junior Maya Magnuski commented. 

However, it was not easy to get the state to change its initial plans. Directors and agencies of SBYSPs statewide reached out to state legislators, the media, and their communities in protest. At the ZONE, director Mariam Gerges attended meetings with other program managers. They were interviewed by various news outlets, including NBC. 

Community support was the greatest asset to the cause as New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s offices and many state senators’ offices were overwhelmed with calls and emails, and a student-held protest took place in Trenton. 

It was extremely inspiring to see communities coming together to fight for a common goal, especially in a time when there is a lot of division and tension.”

— Mariam Gerges

“After learning that the ZONE lost its funding, I immediately began drafting a letter to the people who run our school district,” junior Serena Isahak said. 

A petition created for awareness on change.org was signed by nearly 40,000 people. A Virtual Rally was also held on Zoom September 9, 2020, with over 600 people in attendance, including senators, assemblypeople, superintendents, and citizens. 

“It was extremely inspiring to see communities coming together to fight for a common goal, especially in a time when there is a lot of division and tension,” director Mariam Gerges stated. 

Due to the revised budget being only for 2021, it is probable that SBYSPs will end up in the same position in the 2022 fiscal year. Despite this, Gerges is immensely optimistic and grateful from the recent win.

“I have relearned the importance of advocacy and that voices can be heard when they come together in unity. OUR VOICES DO MATTER,” Mariam Gerges said emphatically. 

The ZONE has hit the ground running, not letting the setback prevent them from doing what they do best: helping DMAE students. To date the ZONE offers students opportunities to relax with art and cooking activities, and teachers have been able to support a presentation by the ZONE on domestic violence in October.

 The ZONE is here to stay for the 2020-2021 school year, and hopefully for many more.