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Middle School Students Get Tough On Bullying

22 Apr

Earlier this month, Assistant Director, Etana Jacobi, was invited to facilitate two forums on bullying with sixth grade scholars at Up Academy Lawrence in Lawrence, Massachusetts.   Utilizing the David Matthews Center for Public Life‘s issue guide, Bullying: What is it? How do we prevent it?sixty students participated in fruitful deliberations on how this issue affects their lives, and what they can do to change it.  As this is Up Academy Lawrence’s founding year, participants had the unique opportunity to discuss an issue with the support of an open administration eager to enact student-generated policies school-wide.

Both forums produced a similar set of ideas to eradicate the bullying phenomenon, centering on the necessity of a school culture where reporting and positive intervention is considered the norm. As the merit system was considered to be an effective strategy currently in place to reward exceptional behavior becoming of an Up Academy Lawrence scholar, participants felt that merits should be awarded to students for reporting bullying to help eliminate the negative “snitch” mentality.  Students recognized that a trade-off for this option was the potential for over/false reporting, but they felt strongly that the benefits outweighed the possible costs in this situation.

There was also a clear need for students to feel equipped with the skills to become positive interveners when they witness, or are victims of, bullying. Participants supported the idea of having self-confidence training for all incoming students to properly prepare them for handling difficult bullying situations.  In addition to a self-confidence training, many participants expressed an interest in establishing a peer mediation program.  Students could opt out of detention if they agreed to participate in a mediation facilitated by trained peers, without the punitive pressures of faculty or administration involvement.  They felt that the implementation of such a program would foster a group of student allies who would be able to help bullies and victims work through the root cause of the issues they are facing.

Amelia Marden, Founding History Teacher at Up Academy Lawrence and 2012 Teach for America Corp Member, took notes on the deliberation, and is currently working with students on policy recommendations that can be made to their Principle and Dean of Students.


WE HIT 100!

13 Feb

Last Thursday we hit what seemed to be a goal only attainable in our wildest dreams: ONE HUNDRED deliberative forums throughout Long Island on issues that affect each and every one of us!  We were incredibly pleased to share this milestone with the students, faculty, and administration at Long Beach High School.  Having faced utter devastation as a result of Hurricane Sandy, Long Beach has done an excellent job rallying together in rebuilding efforts to move forward as a community.  Garnering similar spirit, we led six forums on the National Debt and Immigration Reform, giving students the opportunity to approach these issues in a deliberative manner so that we can move forward as a nation.  Both the Principal, Dr. Gaurav Passi , and the Superintendent, Dr. David Weiss, are Hofstra alumni and have a long involvement with the deliberative NIF process.  In October, the Long Beach Public Library hosted eight forums on four consecutive Fridays, allowing for community members to weigh in on the very same issues students considered last week.  Unfortunately, Sandy hit just days after our last forum at the library and it has yet to reopen.

Long Beach

Reflection from A Nation In Debt:

“I had no idea about anything with the debt, it was just something Dr. Smith gave us last week.  It isn’t something we talk about at home.  My parents don’t say ‘Wow, we’re 17 trillion dollars in debt, have a good day at school!'”  — Female Student

“We only debate at home about politics and say how we feel, not moving on our stances.  It was nice to actually discuss something and see people change their mind about stuff.” — Male Student

“This was the first time I got to hear this is actually an open issue looking for a solution.  The only times we’ve talked about it, I’ve been talked at and not spoken with.” — Female Student

“This should be talked about a lot at school.  This is real life and we need to talk about it now.  It matters.”  — Male Student

Reflection from Immigration in America:

“In my family, when we talk about it, we may have different opinions, but we’re all coming from the same place.  It was good to actually talk about this with people from different backgrounds.” — Male Student

“It’s good we didn’t just talk about what affected us, but how it impacts people from all over the country…how this conversation would be if we were living in Arizona or someplace else.” — Male Student

“I think this type of conversation is more productive and beneficial than how the country has been talking about it.” — Female Student

“This is better than the debates we’ve had in class.  It is not as much about defending everything.  You can have an opinion without fear of being looked down upon.  The forum allows us to actually talk about it.  I’m heard, not judged.” — Female Student

94 down. How many to go?

5 Feb


Project leaders, Bernie Stein and Etana Jacobi, led a focus-group forum on the state of racial and ethnic tensions in the U.S. this past Saturday.  The conversation highlighted the varying degrees of discrimination and acceptance participants have felt and witnessed throughout their lifetimes, and national trends on how Americans feel about racial and ethnic relations.  Information collected from this forum will be used towards a possible rewrite of the NIF Racial and Ethnic Tensions guide.

We will be at Long Beach High School this week, so keep a look out for our next entry about the big 1-0-0!

100 Here We Come!

8 Dec

We are about to hit and pass NINETY COMPLETED FORUMS this week!  Please check out our completed forums page to see where we have been and contact us to bring one to your neighborhood!

Deepening Democracy Through The Schools

27 Nov

Check out this awesome write up on the great work our fellows are doing throughout Long Island in the Merrick Herald!

By: Scott Brinton

The seniors in Kara McManus’s Advanced Placement government class at Kennedy High School in Bellmore were seated in a giant circle, just talking. No arguing, just talking.

The emphasis on talking is important. The students had gathered on Oct. 22, nine hours before President Obama and Governor Romney were set to spar on foreign policy, in order to discuss national security, free trade and climate change. But, unlike the presidential debate, with its emphasis on the divisions between the two candidates, these young people had to work in earnest to reach consensus on the most critical issues affecting the United States today.

And, after more than an hour and a half, the dozen and a half students came to agreement on a number of issues, while on others, they respectfully agreed to disagree.

The forum was one of dozens that Hofstra University is hosting at schools across Long Island in a program that is running in tandem with Hofstra’s town-hall presidential debate, which was held on the Hempstead campus on Oct. 16. The project is called Long Island Deepens Democracy Through Deliberation, and is administered by the university’s Public Policy Institute, of which former Mepham High School social studies teacher Bernie Stein, of Merrick, serves as associate director.

Karen McGuiness, Kennedy’s social studies chairwoman, said Hofstra has held a number of issues forums at the school in recent weeks, and she said, “We’ve been really pleased with the deliberative process.”

Stein said he is working with Hofstra history professor Michael D’Innocenzo, the Harry H. Wachtel distinguished teaching professor for the study of nonviolent change, and Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement on the L.I. Deepens Democracy project, which is grant-funded. The Kettering Foundation developed the deliberative format employed during the forums, and the National Issues Forum supplied the nonpartisan research material that students use to help formulate their opinions on the issues.

Etana Jacobi, 22, of Hooksett, N.H., who is the Harry H. Wachtel Leadership Scholar at the Center for Civic Engagement, and Kayla Rivara, 21, of Shoreham in Suffolk County, a Hofstra senior majoring in political science, led the Oct. 22 forum at Kennedy High.

And, while the discussion got heated at times, it never became overheated.

Kennedy senior Marc Tawfik, 17, said government must protect citizens from terrorism, but must do so without impinging on their civil liberties, and that, he noted, is not always possible. “In protecting itself against threats,” he said of the U.S., the country “became more constricted.”

Classmate Cory Azmon, 17, said that the more than $750 billion the U.S. spends annually on the military may be too great a price to pay. Military spending, he said, “is a little excessive when we have allies that will protect us.”

Senior Kaela Feit wondered whether the U.S. has too many weapons. To a number of other nations, she said, “It looks like we’re stockpiling weapons for some action against them.

“We’re not a police force,” Feit later added. “We’re a democracy.”

A number of students said the U.S. should work through the United Nations in a multilateral approach to world peacekeeping. “Diplomacy should always be the first option,” said Sara Bigman, 17.

Feit said she believes “there is never going to be an end to the war on terror.” Containment is the only real possibility. By working together with other nations, she said, keeping the terrorists at bay is made far easier than if the U.S. were to go it alone.

Perhaps the presidential candidates could take a lesson or two from the students in the L.I. Deepens Democracy project.

For more on the project, check out

Debt Talks in Mepham

3 Nov

Last Thursday Mepham High School hosted our Democracy Fellows for three forums on A Nation in Debt: How Can We Pay the Bills?.  Below are some excerpts from the three discussions!

Moderator: “Who thinks that everyone should make sacrifices to solve the debt crisis?”

All 21 hands went up.

Moderator: “What kinds of cuts should be made?”

Participant: “Just about eveyone is against cutting social security; taking care of the elderly is something you can’t be against.”

Moderator: “But can you reform it?” 

12 of 21 respond affirmatively.

Moderator: Consider life expectancy since the 1935 adoption of Social Security.

Participant: “When I’m older, I’d rather work a few more years and have full benefits.”

Participant: “We have to reform.  It is not going to last by the time we are ready to retire the way it is now.”



Participant: “It is not easy to deal with debt; we need long term ideas to get out of it.”

Participant: “In the past, I gave this topic the cold shoulder.  Now, I want to see what can be done.  If we don’t pay it off, we’re doomed.”

Participant: “In this forum, everyone’s voice is heard.  You hear more than only Republicans and Democrats’ views.”

Participant: “I came in definitely for option two, but people convinced me that option 3 could work–maybe.”

Participant: “If everyone could have these kinds of communications without partisanship, we’d have a better chance of dealing with tough issues like this one.”

Participant: “This has definitely been a learning experience – especially sitting in a circle with open-minded people.  I liked taking it away from Democrats and Republicans to “We The People.”

Rita-Marie Murphy on Immigration Forum

2 Nov

Rita-Marie Murphy graciously invited our Democracy Fellows into her classroom at Patchogue High School to moderate a forum on immigration earlier this month.  Below are her thoughts on the forum and importance of deliberation in the classroom.

Participating in the National Issues Forum was a wonderfully rewarding experience for me and my Advanced Placement Government and Politics students.  Students were introduced to the very valuable skill of deliberation.  Students were taught how to listen to the viewpoints of others, summarize them, and consider the needs of all when deciding public policy matters.  Such a skill is vital to the success of a democracy.  Students were introduced to the public policy issue of immigration and were able to summarize the various viewpoints by reading the National Issues Forum guide on “Immigration-How to fix a system in crisis.”  The issues guide were well-written, concise and contained reader friendly graphs and charts.  As a result, students came to the forum prepared to discuss this issue with true merit.  They were able to weigh to costs and the benefits, consider tradeoffs and compromises.  By participating in the National Issues Forum on Immigration, I am confident that students gained a well-rounded view of an important American public policy issue.  The National Issues Forum gave students the ability to identify and discuss a pressing matter to their community and country with respect to the needs and concerns of others.  Participating in the National Issues Forum was both enriching and educational.   I would highly recommend this program to other teachers!