EAST WINDSOR: ‘Safe Dates’ abuse prevention program offers important lessons to middle school students

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
EAST WINDSOR – Local middle school students have recently graduated from an adolescent dating abuse prevention program.
The East Windsor Regional School District and the Princeton Area Community Foundation Women and Girls Fund partnered on the “Safe Dates” initiative, according to aid Rise Executive Director Leslie Koppel.
“We are lucky to have partners and teach children important lessons about friendship,” she said. “They actually put down their phones and talk about what it means to be a good person with a caring adult to facilitate healthy discussion. It is a unique opportunity for our youth that we are proud to facilitate.”
The afterschool “Safe Dates” program aims to raise girls’ awareness of what constitutes healthy and abusive dating relationships, identify dating abuse including its causes and consequences, change adolescent norms about dating violence, furnish students with the skills and resources to help themselves or friends in abusive dating relationships, and equip students with the skills to develop healthy dating relationships, including positive communication, anger management, and conflict resolution. The program is sponsored by Rise.
Princeton Area Community Foundation Women and Girls Fund provided grant funding for the 10-week program that equips students with the skills needed to build and maintain healthy and safe relationships with friends and peers.
Rise senior case manager Anna Vasquez said the first class was started in 2009. She said that Rise and school guidance counselors work together to recruit students that would like to participate and would benefit from the program. It is held after school from 2:45 to 4:00 p.m. and is offered to seventh- and eighth-grade students. The class ranges from eight to 15 students.
Ms. Vasquez said this class was started in October 2015 and seven students graduated Jan. 12. Students were taught by Isabel Godoy-Bousquet, the program facilitator. The next program will start Jan. 20.
Ms. Koppel reflected on a story of how a girl took the lessons from the class and used them with her mom.
“She worked out a system where her mom didn’t have to yell to wake her up in the morning,” she said. “It just seemed like such a better start to the day.”
Rise is the hub of social services in the Hightstown/East Windsor community, said Ms. Koppel.
“We pride ourselves on responding to community needs and our success is illustrated by overwhelmingly positive local support,” she said. “Rise needs to offer a variety of services because there are no other programs like these in the Hightstown/East Windsor area. We are the only provider of access to free domestic violence counseling, parenting workshops, and counseling to middle-school youth, and summer leadership experiences.”

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