Healthy Schools Now

What if every student in New Jersey, regardless of race & socioeconomic level, had access to a healthy & safe modern public school facility?

Photo of Jerell Blakeley
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Written by

Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

As a graduate of Trenton Central High School, I was aware of the conditions facing student and staff alike. Mold, crumbling stones and severe temperature control issues were not only common but untenable. I witnessed, as a student & community member, Healthy Schools Now organize community & union members to confront the status quo. Now, as the Campaign Organizer for Healthy Schools Now, I want to do the organizing work necessary to make sure that no student has to attend an unsafe school.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • New Jersey

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Ewing, NJ

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • New Jersey

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Trenton, Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Camden & Pleasantville, New Jersey.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Because of a lack of economic resources and a lack of community support, urban communities have difficulties in securing healthy schools.Public school facility inequality is generally the first manifestation of economic inequality that young urban students encounter. Healthy Schools Now is committed to organizing unions, students, and community members to address poor school facilities, particularly in School Development Authority districts.

In order to live up to our country's high ideals, it should not be possible to tell the difference between public schools that serve our state's most affluent students and public schools that serve our state's most impoverished students.  Our country is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal and disparate public school facilities belie that principle.  The Healthy Schools Now coalition is dedicated to organizing communities and unions around ensuring healthy and safe facilities for all New Jerseyans, regardless of class or socio economic levels.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages, and has demonstrated success)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Our most prominent success story has been with the creation of a new Trenton Central High School. Build in the Roaring Twenties, Trenton Central High School was once a beautiful educational edifice. Unfortunately, time was not kind to that beautiful Georgian public school facility. The Healthy Schools Now campaign brought union members, community and student advocates together. We listened to their concerns and designed a media and organizing campaign dedicated to bringing the plight of Trenton Central High School's students and staff to the forefont of the leaders and media. With extensive input from all stakeholders, we organized rallies, forums and meetings with school board members. The new building should be finished by 2020.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Healthy Schools Now has been successful in creating Health and Safety Committees in approximately ten New Jersey union locals. Healthy and Safety committees are collaborative communities of teachers, administrative staff, education support professionals, and parents that hold meetings monthly to address emerging and emergent school facility issues. Under my leadership as the new Campaign Organizer, I am committed to expanding our reach to religious organizations, community groups, fraternal organizations and civil rights organizations committed to healthy and safe schools for all students in New Jersey.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $250k - $500k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Healthy Schools Now is financially supported by the New Jersey Education Association.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Healthy Schools Now is among the state's preeminent organizations dedicated to fighting for better school facilities. Our campaign partners include Save Our Schools NJ, Ironbound Community Corporation, Education Law Center, Abbott Leadership Institute, Our Children, Our Schools Network, The Latino Institute, NJ Clean Water Action, Better Plan for Trenton High School, New Jersey Communities United, Oranges & Maplewood NAACP, NJ Working Families Alliance, NJ Education Association, Newark Teachers Union (AFT Local 481), American Federation of Teachers NJ, Statewide Education Organizing Committee

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

The focus on addressing the impact of economic inequality is a promising shift in advancing children's wellbeing. It's imperative that every student have an opportunity to drink from the well of possibility. It is shameful that in the richest and most powerful country in the world, where you live has such a dramatic impact on healthy and social outcomes. It is incumbent for leaders, both in the corporate, political and social impact sectors, to ensure that every child in America, regardless of their community, is invested to their potential. Our future as a democracy lies in the balance.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Dan Fatton, Executive Director of Work Environmental Council.

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 50%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 0%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 50%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 0%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 25%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 50%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 25%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 50%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 25%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 50%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 25%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 25%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 25%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 25%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 50%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Nathan M McTague, CPCC, CPDPE

This is an incredibly important project, and one that would be useful throughout urban America. Gets at one of the most basic issues facing underfunded schools. Many of our programs are great for making school more effective, and/or safer for children; but this project is addressing the foundation(s) that every school needs to have (well before we perfect the systems in place therein). It shouldn't be necessary (first rate basic education should be a guaranteed right in this country...), but in as much as it still is necessary, we need this program to go national. Thanks for your important work!