Kearny High School sophomores preparing for their learner’s permit test were exposed to a very special lesson guaranteed to drive home the point about being safe on the roads.

The school’s 10th-graders – all 450 of them – helped create a mural whose theme focuses on traffic-safety awareness with help from the Nikhil Badlini Foundation, named for the 11-year-old boy killed June 11, 2011, when a car ran through a stop sign at the West Orange/South Orange border.

Nikhil was a straight-A student and talented musician.

On Jan. 30, West Orange resident Sangeeta Badlini, the boy’s mother and foundation president, attended the unveiling of the newly-completed 5-foot-by-8-foot mural which has been mounted in a KHS corridor as a permanent display.

It’s positioned just a few feet away from a painting of Adrian Velazquez, a former KHS student and soccer standout who died March 3, 2018, at age 19 in a traffic accident in Delaware.

Adrian’s mother, Tania Rivero, was invited to the ceremony and a plaque dedicated to her son was presented on behalf of the foundation.

Sangeeta Badlini said she started the foundation in 2011 in the hope of sensitizing teens to the importance of following the rules of the road while operating a motor vehicle.

“I made a promise to [Nikhil] that his loss would not be another statistic,” she said.

In August 2015, New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill called “Nikhil’s Law” requiring the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission to include in its driver’s manual the consequences of violating traffic laws.

The bill also informs new drivers how to take the “Stop for Nikhil” pledge — which is what KHS sophomores did when they took their MVC driver’s test.

They pledge to follow those rules when driving and, specifically, to:

  • Come to a complete stop at any stop sign and never go through a red light.
  • Stay alert by keeping their hands on the wheel and mind on the road.
  • Use a hands-free cell phone system while driving and refrain from texting or using a handset unless pulled over.
  • Plan ahead by allowing an extra five minutes to reach a destination.

So far, 22 high schools in New Jersey, including those in Nutley and Bloomfield, have participated in the artwork project and pledge. Harrison High School is expected to take on the challenge in March.

KHS offers driver education classes as an extension of the school’s physical education curriculum.

Vincent Almeida, director of athletics and student activities, and Denise Pais-Sotelo, instructional supervisor of physical education and health, said students worked in small groups – in consultation with artist Cindy Klein, a longtime friend of Sangeeta and foundation volunteer – to devise pictorial/verbal concepts embodying motor vehicle rules.

After all the students had translated those concepts into individual painted sketches, Klein said she took on the task of designing an overall collage incorporating the student’s contributions.

The final product – which, according to Pais-Sotelo, took about three weeks to assemble – was glued onto a plexiglass coating and readied for mounting.

Pais-Sotelo credited staff members Timothy Stamm, Ericka McCurnin, Amy Goldman and Billy Mullins with coaching students on their artistic labors.

Superintendent of Schools Patte Blood extended her “appreciation to the Nikhil Foundation for the work they’ve done with our students. This mural and its message will be here for years to come so that not only will it serve our current population but also those who’ll be here in the future.”

Sangeeta said she’s hoping that a reproduction of the Kearny mural can be displayed at Newark Penn Station as an additional means of spreading the safe driving reminder.

The foundation sponsors an annual Stop for Nikhil 5K Run/Walk on the third Sunday of September at West Orange High School “to remember and honor the people who have died or have been seriously injured in motor vehicle crashes and to create awareness about traffic safety.”

It also provides individualized music lessons to underserved children in grades 6 through 12 at no cost. Instruction is offered in band and string instruments and voice. Voice lessons are also given to special needs children with cognitive disabilities. Professional musicians serve as instructors.

For more information about the foundation, visit

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