Things have come full circle for Judi Nardella. Twelve years ago, when her eldest daughter was an eighth grade student at Longfellow Middle School, Nardella founded the Safe Community Coalition. Next week, her youngest daughter will start the eighth grade at Longfellow, just two months after Nardella took over as the new president of the Safe Community Coalition.
"It's just interesting from an historical perspective –– remembering how things were, and how they've changed since then," said Nardella. "The biggest change and the biggest difference that I see is technology and how people are communicating with one another."
The Safe Community Coalition is a non-profit, all volunteer organization that was founded to maintain a safe community for youth by improving communication between adults and children. Over the last 12 years the coalition has sponsored a number of programs and forums designed to provide and gather information on pertinent education and social issues currently faced by parents and children. The coalition services the areas defined by the McLean and Langley High School pyramids.
Nardella helped to found the Safe Community Coalition, but always stayed involved on the sidelines, mainly due to her numerous work commitments. McLean resident Jan Auerbach served as president for the last six years, but decided that the time had come for her to focus on her duties as vice chair of the McLean Community Center Governing Board.
"Now is just good timing for me," said Nardella, who came on as president on July 1.
NARDELLA has already thrown herself full-bore into her new position, and has many changes planned for the year ahead. One of the biggest projects that is currently in the works is an update of the group's Web site. Nardella recognizes the importance of being Web savvy when it comes to dealing with today's youth. She hopes that a new and improved site will encourage teens to be more involved in Safe Community Coalition programs, while simultaneously providing another avenue for the organization to get its information out to the public.
"One of the innovations that we are going to bring to our program this year is that people will have the ability to listen to podcasts on their computers," said Nardella.
Being a busy woman herself, Nardella understands that making it to special meetings and programs can be difficult for parents and their children.
"This way, when they have the time, they can print out information and download clips from our Web site," said Nardella.
An off-shoot of this will have the Safe Community Coalition Web site offering post-podcast online discussions with teens and a professional moderator.
"I think with these things we are going to have more participation in our programs and after our programs," said Nardella.
The new site will also be used for administrative and fund-raising purposes, allowing users to sign up for events online, or make donations with the a few clicks of the mouse.
"I have a couple of personal goals as president," said Nardella. "One is just to evolve the way we communicate, and see if that can't help more people be able to participate, and another is bringing more of our young people in to help run the programs so we can find out what is truly going on out there and what is important to them."
The new Web site is scheduled to launch sometime this week.
THE SAFE COMMUNITY COALITION is also adding new programs to its roster this year. It will continue to hold its successful longtime programs such as the Middle School Forum and the Teen Summit, both of which are aimed at finding out what issues matter most to teens today.
"Every year we first confirm our vision and mission statements and then we look at all of our ongoing programs and see if we want to keep doing these programs because they take effort," said former Safe Community Coalition president Jan Auerbach. "Then we look at ideas for new programs, and most of those come from the Teen Summit and the Middle School Forum."
Some new programs that were approved by the Coalition Board include a special speaker for parents and students on cheating, plagiarism and source citations, an elementary school field day managed by a representative from McLean Youth Sports, and a program designed to alert parents to drugs and their dangers, as well as the new law relating to adults serving alcohol to minors.
"Also, our Middle School Forum traditionally only targeted seventh graders, but this year, we are also going to have one for eighth graders," said Auerbach. "We're going to have it late in the school year as they are getting anxious about starting high school."
In addition, Nardella plans to manage a program on Internet safety for middle school students and their parents. Nardella and other members of the Safe Community Coalition have been meeting with various school principals and have been told that online social networking sites like Myspace.com and Facebook.com have posed a problem for school administrators.
"Schools do monitor Myspace, and if they come across a student page that seems particularly dangerous, they have been reaching out to parents, but have not been getting very good responses," said Nardella. "They are often told that it's none of their business."
Nardella said she was disturbed to find out that last year, Kent Gardens Elementary School actually expelled a couple of students based on Internet related issues. To her, the fact that elementary school students are using the Web in negative ways is proof that parents need to pay attention to how their children use the Internet.
"I think because the Internet is the new frontier and it came so rapidly and so fast, that we didn't really develop the protocols for teaching our children how to deal with it," said Nardella.
Auerbach said she is excited to see how Nardella adds to the accomplishments of the Safe Community Coalition.
"I'm more of a managerial and administrative kind of person, and she's more of a marketing and public relations kind of person, so it's a different set of skills," said Auerbach. "It's been interesting to see what she's already done so far."