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#NoMoreEmptyDesks: Art + activism = artivism!

By: Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN

Many of the readers of this blog have followed the evolution of the #NoMoreEmptyDesks project that is currently underway in a Camden, New Jersey high school. The voices of the students, especially in this time, must be amplified.  #NoMoreEmptyDesks was conceived as an idea, a thought, a collaborative plan.

I reached out to a talented and devoted art teacher, Lisa Wallenburg, who I have worked with in my Camden City School District. Lisa is currently in her 33rd year of teaching art in Camden, and her passion and commitment to the students, the city, the community are unparalleled. Lisa immediately responded with a resounding YES!

The #NoMoreEmptyDesks initiative has received an arts grant that will culminate in a student-led curated art exhibit at the Stedman Art Gallery on the campus of Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey in the spring of 2021.  This will be the celebration of a 3 year journey to amplify the voice of students who have experienced community gun violence.

Anything Can Be a Canvas in Camden, Even an Old Desk

I recently visited the group of high school juniors to share my family’s story and give context to how this project conceived. I am impressed with the enthusiasm and engagement by this talented group of high schoolers. Here are some pictures from my visit!


Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN is a Nationally Certified School Nurse (NCSN), currently in her 19th year as a New Jersey school nurse in the Camden City School District. She serves on several national boards including The American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a gun violence prevention research non-profit organization and the National Board of Certification for School Nurses (NBCSN). Robin is the Legislative Chair for the New Jersey State School Nurses Association (NJSSNA). She is proud to be a Johnson & Johnson School Health Leadership Fellow and past Program Mentor.

She has been recognized in her home state of New Jersey and nationally for her community-based initiative called “The Community Café: A Conversation That Matters.” Robin is the honored recipient of multiple awards for her work in school nursing and population health. These awards include 2019 National Association of School Nurses (NASN) President’s Award; 2018 NCSN School Nurse of the Year; 2017 Johnson & Johnson School Nurse of the Year; and the New Jersey Department of Health 2017 Population Health Hero Award. Robin serves as faculty in the School Nurse Certificate Program at Rutgers University-Camden School of Nursing, where she teaches the next generation of school nurses. She was presented the 2018 Rutgers University – Camden Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award for Part-time Faculty.

Robin writes a weekly blog called The Relentless School Nurse. You can also follow her on Twitter at @RobinCogan.

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