Episode 33: Fast Break—Activism, Youth Voice, and Anti-Hazing
Note: The audio versions of all episodes are available on the DOE Digest webpage.
Ken: Hello and welcome to the DOE Digest, a podcast from the New Jersey Department of Education. I'm your host, Ken Bond.
The DOE Digest is a platform for information exchange in which the Department highlights the work being done by transformative educators around the state. This podcast is one of the ways that we utilize our digital platform to help strengthen teaching, leading, and learning, and increase educational equity for the 1.4 million students across New Jersey. Thank you for joining us.
Hello listeners. We here at the Department are excited to bring you this Fast Break episode. Fast Break episodes are releases that take place in between our monthly release scheduled.
In this episode, we're going to be highlighting the work of Matthew Prager, a student that helped pass an anti-hazing law here in the state of New Jersey. In this episode, Matthew talks about student activism, as well as how this process impacted him personally. The law we'll be talking about was signed by Governor Murphy and is called the Timothy J. Piazza's Law. This law requires public and non-public middle schools, high schools, as well as higher education institutions, to adopt anti-hazing policies and penalties for violations of the policies, as well as other requirements.
As Matt talks about the amazing work that he accomplished, about the memory of his brother's best friend, Tim who died in a hazing incident, as well as the partnerships that he formed, please pay attention to how this may impact you and how you can bring some of these ideas to whatever context you're working in as an educator.
Matthew Prager, Student
Matt: My name is Matt Prager. I go to Hunterdon Central and really happy to be here.
Ken: So what have been the biggest takeaways from your work on this law? What have you seen come about as a result of your work that you want to share with others?
Matt: I think mostly, at such a young age, that people like Senator Bateman would listen to and start something so big off of what I said when I was so young. Just hearing the voices of young people understanding they matter.
Ken: Yeah. That's huge. Thank you so much. So with the Timothy J. Piazza's law that was recently passed in New Jersey, just tell me a little bit about that process and, you know, what it's meant to you.
Matt: Well, Tim and his family have always been good family friends of ours. He was my brother's best friend. He was here all the time. So I've always been pretty close with them. And I've been doing the foundation—the outings—for five years now, I think. When I heard about the law in Pennsylvania and that wasn't implemented in New Jersey, I just thought something had to be done. I sent an email to the Senator and...I didn't really expect an answer. So it was really surprising, a great thing, when I got that. We met in person at an interview for the local news station. And it was just him happy to see me and happy about everything we've done.
Ken: So, can you share about why this law is important for New Jersey? What it means for our state, what it means for schools?
[somber background music]
Matt: It's just gonna, I think, help everybody. It'll make people more comfortable. Make parents comfortable sending their kids to college. And just take a lot of that fear away, so people could have more fun and just live their lives. Basically, just what happened to Tim, I just want to make sure that nothing like that could ever happen again. Just make sure that people think about it. They just think twice before doing anything that can harm anyone.
Ken: Yeah. And again, like thank you so much for sharing. I'm sure kind of, like, revisiting this process is just...I'm sure there's some really, really amazing parts about it and some really hard parts too. So really appreciate it.
So as podcast listeners think about how they can promote youth voice and youth activism like what you've done, what advice would you have for those educators as they're thinking about? There's things that are important to the youth in our town, and we want to really be able to help support them and being able to see those things through to fruition. Like what advice would you have for them?
Matt: I think that one of the hardest parts of starting the, like, reaching out and starting the law was contacting the Senator right away. If there's educators or teachers that, like, are there as a first step, as like someone to talk to, someone to hear ideas, give feedback, and that could really help people and really get something done. If you find something from a student that you know that they really care about, really think is a good thing, I think they should just go try helping. Maybe counselors could help. Just someone to bounce ideas off of and just help get something started. If you were to maybe do an assignment about it or just ask them, see what they like and then try to build off of that as much as you can.
[end of interview]
[more upbeat transitional music]
Ken: Thank you so much for listening to this episode. I hope that you found it helpful as you think about student activism and also anti-hazing policy in your schools, and the importance of thinking through what all the implications are for all of this in your context. thank you to Matthew for sharing his story and trusting us at the New Jersey Department of Education with it. And thank you to Elizabeth Thomas, who helps transcribe these episodes to make sure that they are accessible for all. As always, please subscribe and rate our podcast so that new listeners can follow us. Thanks!