Student Senate Forum is a Model of Civil Discourse During Contentious Times!

Earlier today, the entire Wheatley community took a break from classes to engage in a Student Senate Forum. An outgrowth of discussions I had with some of our students after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the Student Senate Forum was designed to give students an opportunity to discuss controversial topics in a civil manner respectful of each other and each other’s views.

The planning for this day began with the selection of topics to consider in a forum. The following topics were selected:

  1. The Second Amendment – Students will discuss the history and importance of the Second Amendment, including current debate regarding its repeal.
  2. School Safety – Students will discuss current issues regarding school safety, including the use of armed guards, arming teachers and identifying and supporting at risk teens.
  3. Gun Violence – Students will discuss issues related to gun violence in the US. Do guns cause more harm than good? What are the advantages of gun ownership? Should there be restrictions on the types of guns to be sold?
  4. Mental Health – Students will discuss mental health issues and their connection to gun violence. Should tighter gun ownership regulations be put in place to identify and help those suffering from mental illnesses?
  5. Guns in the US and around the World – Students will discuss how gun laws differ among the various states in our country. Comparison will be made with gun laws in other countries. Should there be limits on what the government should do regarding background checks.
  6. Violence in Media and Modern Culture – Students will discuss the impact of video games, movies, TV shows, and social media on gun violence. Students will be exposed to multiple viewpoints about the effect such media has on people.
  7. Understanding School Shootings in the U.S. – Students will discuss the history of US school shootings and learn about factors related to them. How have various school shootings impacted the day-to-day life of high school students.

For each of these topics, groups of students worked together to develop a common presentation and discussion guide. As part of this process, students partnered with a faculty member to provide guidance and feedback. As students were working on their presentations, a survey was sent to all students asking each to select one of the aforementioned discussion topics. The number of concurrent sessions of each topic was dependent on student interest. In total, we had 17 different sessions related to these seven topics.

The students and faculty members involved were:

The Second Amendment

  • Group 1: Ashley Vincenzo and Jessica Poomkudy, Mr. Wilson
  • Group 2: Brenda Zhong and Maggie Caroddo, Dr. Staudt

School Safety

  • Group 1: Rahul Ajmera and Mara Zuckerman, Dr. Klapper
  • Group 2: Jacob Ribotsky and Karan Amin, Mr. Cadet
  • Group 3: Johnnie Scudero and Brooke Schwartz, Mr. Chisholm

Gun Violence

  • Group 1: Dean Sheinman and Jason Koty, Ms. Seferian
  • Group 2: Tony Deluxe and Peter Cuomo, Mr. Ardito
  • Group 3: Ally Kim and Kevin Contreras, Mr. Clarke

Mental Health

  • Group 1: Patrick Brady, Ali Bhalloo, Ali Ostad, Mr. Schwalm
  • Group 2: Michaela Balboni, Vani Kumar, Ms. Maier
  • Group 3: Kimmy Esquilin, Jason Manzano, Ms. Tsabasis and Mrs. Schacter

Guns in US and Around the World

  • Group 1: Aamir Muneer and Freddy Lin, Mr. Eckers

Violence in Media and Modern Culture

  • Group 1: Brenden Resnick and Camellia Ye, Mrs. Roberts
  • Group 2: Alison Amarain and Sana Haroon, Ms. Fatone
  • Group 3: Jamie Horowitz and Rikki Gassman, Mr. Dunn

Understanding School Shootings in the U.S.

  • Group 1: Amanda Kim and Talia Rosen, Ms. Chanin-Bermudez
  • Group 2: Vedant Singh and Megan Kirschner, Mr. Meyers and Mr. Fitzko

It was truly a remarkable morning! I was so proud to see how these students organized themselves and their topics. The discussions were a model of civil discourse. All of the students in our school should be proud of the seriousness with which they conducted themselves this morning. Today was a reminder of the special nature of our school and students!

Special thanks to Allison Chanin-Bermudez, our Student Senate Advisor, for her assistance in organizing the event.


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