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Students weren’t coached on content of their letters

We’d like to start off by thanking Mr. O’Neil for his response (Addison Independent, May 4) to our students, who had submitted letters to the editor about racial profiling. In doing so, he showed our students that, although they are adolescents, they can initiate important conversations about issues that are facing their world, that their voices do matter and that their voices will be heard if they speak out for what they believe in.
Our students are fortunate to live in a district and to attend a school that values active participation in civic life. In fact, the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union school boards value civic engagement so much that it was included as one of 14 goals laid out in the district ENDS Policy published in 2011. This policy states, “Students (will) view themselves as valuable, contributing citizens, participating actively in the community.”
In keeping with these ends, Mount Abraham Union Middle School is in the midst of a transformation that is emphasizing active citizenship. This shift has begun in the seventh grade. Our team, Team Apex, is one of the first two middle school teams to adopt an interdisciplinary, project-based approach to education. Under this new model, the social studies, science and English curricula are fused.
For each unit, we have a question that drives the culminating project. In this past unit, Laws and Investigations, the driving question was, “What action can we take to ensure that people are not wrongfully punished, while still making sure that we catch the culprit?” Students studied the scientific method, forensic science, our judicial system and our legislative system. We invited guest speakers, including two police officers and a legislator, into our classroom to teach and speak with our students. To help students practice non-fiction reading strategies, we wove in articles about current events that were related to laws and investigations. This also acquainted students with some of the hot topics in today’s news regarding the U.S. justice system.
However, in a project-based classroom, applying learning to actions that impact the world outside of the classroom is imperative. Thus, students were tasked with identifying something that they viewed as a problem in the local, state, national or international judicial systems and to take action to try to impact change. Students were at liberty to choose any topic they wanted, so long as it was connected to the theme.
The array of topics and viewpoints was as diverse as our student body. They ranged from stopping cyber criminals, to freeing political prisoners abroad, to reinstating the death penalty in Vermont, to abolishing the death penalty in the United States, to ending racial profiling. During this process, we acted as coaches. We did not coach them in what to believe, as many of them had contrasting opinions.
However, we did coach them in how to do research, how to make a plan and work toward it, how to reach out to other people and resources in the community, and how to follow through on their plans. We are proud of our students, middle schoolers with the bravery to complete research, form an independent opinion, plan an action to make a difference, and follow through on that action.
In a time when building consensus seems increasingly difficult, we believe that one thing we can all agree on is we do not want our youth to become apathetic adults or, worse, disempowered adults. Even if we do not agree with their opinions, we all have an interest in raising children who are engaged in civic life and feel empowered to speak up for their beliefs. We feel fortunate to belong to a community of parents, administrators, and community members that are working together to make the dream of a new crop of active citizens a reality.
Jocelyn Foran, Betsy Rippner, Nan Guilmette and Pat Mattison
Team Apex Teachers
Mount Abraham Union Middle School, Bristol

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