The talkback after the performance of The Laramie Project on Dec. 1 was moderated by student Phoebe George and featured Matthew Shepard’s father, Dennis Shepard, Councilwoman Marsha Silverman, English teacher and GSA advisor Rebecca Goldaper, student Kayla Hogan and theater teacher and director Jared Ross. (Photo by Jennifer Corr)

Glen Cove Board Of Education Sees Presentation On Preparing Students For Civic Readiness

Glen Cove City School District Social Studies Coordinator Susan Poulos began a presentation shown to the Board of Education at the Jan. 17 meeting with a quote from Anne Frank:
“How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment before starting to change the world.”
Poulos said that these words serve as a poignant reminder that even in the darkest of times, we don’t need to wait for a specific moment to transform our world.
“Today I invite you to explore the theme of civic readiness in our schools, the heartbeat of societal change,” Poulos said. “Civic readiness involves not only recognizing our rights but also embracing our responsibilities as active members of society. It encompasses civic knowledge, civic skills and actions, civic mindsets and civic experiences.”
Poulos explained that civic readiness lessons are embedded in the kindergarten through 12th-grade social studies curriculum.
“The foundational lessons of being responsible members in our community, such as practicing kindness and sharing, begin in our elementary schools,” Poulos said. “As students move onto the middle school, they dive into understanding of public processes. Finally, in high school, students reach the pinnacle of civic education where they have opportunities to showcase their civic actions and impact as active members of society.”
The presentation then displayed examples of the district’s civic education program.
For example, in kindergarten, the students learn about the role of various community members through the “community helpers unit.” They also visit Sunrise of Glen Cove, an assisted living facility, to sing holiday songs.
In first grade, students visit the local post office to send Mother’s Day cards and they honor family members who served in the military by displaying their photo and biography. This year, students will have the opportunity to begin thinking about their civic roles in the community and beyond as they learn about traits that represent responsible citizenship.
In second grade, students take a tour of Glen Cove City Hall and have an opportunity to meet and interview the mayor. Students also get to vote on their favorite dessert using a ballot box. In the “Adopt an Animal” project, students learn to be responsible for non-human members of society.
In third grade, students do an extensive research project on protecting the local and endangered piping plover birds. This year, the students are participating in a poster contest called “Share our Shores” sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Bird Sanctuary.
In fourth grade, students learn about local New York communities and their change over time, incorporating the studies of geography, history, economics and government. Students also learn about democratic processes by voting for or running for a class office.
In fifth grade, students participate in the New York State Holocaust Education Initiative. They take an age-appropriate tour of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center and contribute to the butterfly project by crafting butterflies that will honor the 1.5 million children who lost their lives in the Holocaust.
In middle school, students study human history and have the ability to take electives, such as Foundations in Government and Citizens Rights and Responsibilities. Eighth-graders undertake a capstone civic research project where they apply civic lessons to an issue of concern.
Eighth-grader Natalie Cartagena-Benitez, in a video shown to the Board of Education, explained her experience taking the civic engagement course. She said she was always passionate about history and that this class gave her the opportunity to express her mind and build on her knowledge about the world.
In sixth grade, students participate in a program called Students Rebuild, created by the Bezos Family Foundation, where they address a yearly theme through art. This year’s theme was the “Extraordinary Earth Project.”
As for high school, the New York State Board of Regents created a “Path to Seal of Civic Readiness,” emphasizing and recognizing the importance of civic education and preparedness among students.
“The goal is to ensure students are well-informed, engaged and equipped with the necessary skills to participate in civic life,” Poulos said. “The Seal of Civic Readiness could be used as a Humanities Pathway to graduation or as a standalone seal on their diploma. The inception of this initiative took place during the 2021-2022 school year and our school was among the pioneers in piloting this program.”
As illustrated in a graphic shown in the presentation, the program is steadily expanding with the introduction of additional courses and opportunities aimed at enabling students to fulfill the criteria for the seal.
To obtain the seal, students can take courses in social studies, legal study electives and civic electives.
“These carefully curated courses not only align with the academic requirements but also serve as a pathway for students to obtain the Seal of Civic Readiness,” Poulos said, inviting three students to display an overview of their senior year civic engagement project.
Valedictorian Virginia Graziosi discussed how she’s been volunteering at HorseAbility, a nonprofit that offers adaptive horseback riding and hippotherapy, a physical, occupational, and speech therapy that utilizes the natural gait and movement of a horse to provide motor and sensory input, for people with physical and mental disabilities.
“HorseAbility showed me that the comfort animals can bring to humans was no longer just my personal experience,” Graziosi said. “This is why I’m taking on the role of being an active changemaker.”
A student named Rachel Ayiku reopened the mentoring program between the high school and Connolly Elementary School. She hopes to expand it to Landing Elementary School.
“The program’s goal is to set up these children with skills that will take them through their middle and high school careers into higher education and into the rest of their lives,” Rachel said. “The hope is that through this program, the mentors will build big brother and big sister-like relationships and become confidants to these young children who are not mature enough to handle their emotions and feelings in positive ways. This will produce a society of students who will be able to handle their stress and their emotions and would continue this program, passing down their knowledge to future generations.”
Student Phoebe George discussed their program on LGBTQIA Advocacy, citing an attack on the LGBTQIA community in the recent political climate.
“As important as the larger fight in Congress is, I believe that in small communities such as ourselves, we need to do something,” George said. “The discussion of sexuality and gender to some is very taboo, and through actions such as the talkback panel at The Laramie Project performance, which I hope some of you attended, was speaking with some of our community members who are part of the queer community and showing that we exist. I am personally transgender. I do not identify with the gender aligned at birth and seeing this legislation is very terrifying. So, having that conversation not being considered taboo, not being considered dangerous to have, is just the first step in creating a more comfortable world for not just people like me, but people everywhere.”
The Laramie Project, which was performed by Glen Cove High School students on Dec. 1 and 2, documents the aftermath of the murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, an openly gay University of Wyoming student. The opening night performance featured a talk-back with Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s father, and members of the community.
“Virginia, Rachel, Phoebe, I applaud your work and thank you for sharing your project with us tonight, as it clearly demonstrates the success of our civics program and how your impact is creating a larger, positive, societal transformation,” Poulos said. “In essence, civic education is not just a tool for change, it is the key to saving our world. It is the embodiment of the belief that collaborative effort fueled by individuals such as our students or yourselves can address the complex challenges that we face…”

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