Today was a special day at Wheatley, for it was our 11th Annual Day of Service and Learning. A special feature of this year’s activities was our Student Senate Forum at the beginning of the day (prior to the community service activities).
Wheatley’s first Student Senate Forum took place in May 2018, largely as 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. This first Student Senate Forum was so successful that students request another opportunity to come together in this manner.
The planning for this day began with the selection of topics to consider in a forum. The following topics were selected:
- Climate Change and the Partisan Divide: Students will discuss how climate change became so polarized, if taking action to curb our ecological footprint is more pressing than other issues, and the common ground between the two extremes.
- Vaccines and Individual Freedoms: Students will discuss the controversy between the safety and health of the public and the right of parents in making health decisions and certain religious freedoms.
- 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.
- Roe v. Wade in the New Millennium: Students will discuss whether or not more female legislators would make a difference in states with strict abortion laws, and why Roe v. Wade is viewed by some as controversial.
- Social Media Regulation and Free Speech: Students will discuss whether or not social media should be regulated, who would regulate it, and if the regulation of social media is violating freedom of speech.
- Affirmative Action: Students will discuss the pros and cons of affirmative action, and how we should holistically measure students.
- Marijuana Legalization: Students will discuss the health effects and stigmas of marijuana usage in modern day American society, as well as take a look at the history of marijuana usage in the United States. Moreover, students will assess the economic, social, and political implications of legalization.
- Vaping/E-Cigarettes: Students will discuss the serious and prevalent issues associated with vaping, and we will analyze what has caused teens and young adults to be drawn to vaping.
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 18 different sessions related to these seven topics.
The students and faculty members involved were:
Climate Change and the Partisan Divide
- Group 1: Manav Bansal and Aarushi Jain, Mrs. Walbroehl
- Group 2: Robert Boubour and Karthik Pitchayan, Mr. Finkelstein
- Group 3: Neil Shah and Siddhant Jain, Ms. Maier
Vaccines and Individual Freedom
- Group 1: Ansh Jhaveri and Rahul Ajmera, Mr. Plana
- Group 1: Madison Ramos and Emily Yagoda, Mr. Wilson
- Group 2: Shruti Goyal and James Li, Mr. Henao
- Group 3: Brenda Zhong and Peter Cuomo, Mr. Orlovsk
- Group 4: Emma Melnikov and Jacob Kaufman, Mr. Meyers
Roe v. Wade in the New Millennium
- Group 1: Ashley Vincenzo and Frederick Lin, Mrs. Roberts
- Group 2: Declan Brady and Yusuf Zafar, Mr. Clarke
Social Media Regulation and Free Speech
- Group 1: Orell Rayhan and Alison Amarain, Mrs. Clarke
- Group 2: Ali Bhalloo and Nadav Cohen, Mr. Fitzko
- Group 3: Norah Gidanian and Natalia Potrapeluk, Ms. Principe-Franco
- Group 1: Huda Ayaz and Lucy Zha, Mr. Ardito
- Group 1: Jason Koty and Dean Sheinman, Mrs. Perinelli
- Group 2: Padraig Brady and Rayhan Meghji, Mr. Henley
- Group 3: Rebecca Sparacio and Diya Shah, Dr. Staudt
- Group 1: Aidan Wong and Brandon Behar, Mrs. Tsabasis and Ms. Rogala
It was truly a wonderful morning! I was so proud to see how these students organized themselves and their topics. The discussions were a model of civil discourse. It was wonderful to watch the student moderators lead discussions and encourage participation from a variety of viewpoints. Today was a reminder of the special nature of our school and students.
Special thanks to Dr. Alison Warner, our Student Senate Advisor (and newest Guidance Counselor), for her assistance in organizing the event. A special “Thank You” to the following Student Senate leaders who took care of so many of the logistics of the morning: Maggie Caroddo (who also served to make sure the morning ran smoothly), Rahul Ajmera, Orell Rayhan, Frederick Lin and Peter Cuomo. Finally, thank you to our faculty who so generously gave their time in support of our student presenters.