Perth Amboy Catholic School student wins state poster contest


Perth Amboy, NJ - Perth Amboy Catholic School sixth grader Melissa Gonzalez, age 11, Monday, October 3, 2011, in the art classroom at the school. Melissa was the first place winner in a Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey art contest. JASON TOWLEN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER / JASON TOWLEN/MyCentralJersey/Staff














PERTH AMBOY — Melissa Gonzalez sees people that don’t always do the right things in life and sometimes use peer pressure to try to influence others to follow in their wrong ways.

But Melissa, 11, a sixth-grade student at Perth Amboy Catholic School, wants to use peer pressure in a more positive way by influencing others to steer clear of drugs and alcohol.

Melissa created a poster during Rose Pennyfeather’s art class last year titled “Don’t Let Alcohol Ruin Your Life.” The poster features a girl on one portion who has just graduated from school and the words “A life not ruined.” The poster also features a boy on another portion with bottles of alcohol and drugs around him, and the words “A life ruined.”

Melissa said the boy’s life is ruined because of the future he created for himself.

“You can see people do bad things and choose the wrong choices,” she said.

The message in Melissa’s poster was selected as the grand-prize winner of the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey’s Dangers of Underage Drinking: How Underage Drinking Affects Middle School Students Billboard/Calendar Competition.

“I was very shocked and surprised,” Melissa about winning. “My mom was almost crying tears of joy.”

Recently, four billboards featuring her poster design were put up along Amboy Avenue, Smith Street and State Street in Perth Amboy, including one near the Perth Amboy Train Station.

Melissa said she was downtown shopping and looked out the window and saw the billboard with her drawing.

“It’s exciting,” said Melissa, who received a trophy, plaque and four tickets to Six Flags Great Adventure’s Fright Fest.

Melissa said art is one of her favorite classes.

“I want to be a really good artist one day,” said Melissa, who likes to paint and color with crayons to fill in the smaller details.

“You get to express your feelings in art. And it’s good to have a good teacher,” Melissa added about Pennyfeather, who has taught art at the school for 13 years.

“She’s a serious excellent artist. I’m really proud of her,” Pennyfeather said.

This is the second consecutive year a Perth Amboy Catholic School student has won the contest.

“It’s amazing. It’s a big accomplishment. They get thousands of entries,” Pennyfeather said. “It’s a big thrill for us to win two years in a row first place.”

Pennyfeather said the school participates in the contest every year.

“It’s important for them to understand the dangers of drinking,” said Pennyfeather, who wants the children to know they can say no, and to be aware of the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol. She also has reminded the children not to accept drinks from people they don’t know.

She said it’s important to teach these lessons at an early age.

Pennyfeather said the school has won about 200 art contests on the national, state, county, local and diocese levels. She enters about five or six art contests every year, all with important messages related to hunger, homelessness, community service or drug and alcohol awareness.

“I love what I do. I love the children. I think we have extremely talented students,” Pennyfeather said. “They really work hard. It really pays off. We’re all enthusiastic.”

Suzanne Russell: 732-565-7335;