We the People: A Morning with Ms. Williams’ Civics Class

In a classroom version of the highly successful State Constitutional debate competition known as “We The People”, the 8th grade students in Ms. Williams’ civic class demonstrated their prowess to a panel of judges. Luckily for me, I was one of them.

“We the People” has been promoted by Mr. Peter Gunn for over a decade with Williston Northampton’s AP US History students. Earlier this year, Andrew Syfu’s 8th grade class also tackled the debates—with great success.

The 8th graders read prepared responses to challenging constitutional questions (for instance, “do you believe there are times when freedom of expression should be limited?”). Groups of three students presented to a three-judge panel.

As judges, we were able to ask follow-up questions. The students parried and responded with thoughtful examples, clear counterpoints, and an occasional, “Could you please repeat the question?”

So what did I take away from this?  If the ability to prepare a cogent and specific written argument matters, if the skill of listening carefully matters, if collaborating with peers to achieve a common goal matters, then the 8th grade civic’s exercise was a complete success.

At one point, Mrs. Sawyer remarked on how one young person’s nuanced reply “sounded like a lawyer” and reminded us all how nimble teenage minds really can be.

Oh, and the audience of middle school students were also attentive, respectful, and engaged. All in all, it was quite a morning treat in Whitaker-Bement.

Cyber Smarts: Dr. Hinduja Speaks at Williston Northampton

6915358678 fb0d6e1aee oWe all need to be learners in the virtual classroom.  Dr. Sameer Hinduja educated Williston students on Tuesday (and a gathering of parents the evening before) about the clear and present dangers of teenage use of social media. 

An expert in his field, Dr. Hindjua’s deceptively youthful appearance gained him quick credibility with our students—a hip college professor connects well with those in middle and upper school.  One aspect of his message was not especially new: Electronic postings last a lifetime even if “taken down” from original sites. Yet the advice he gave students was newly framed for them.  

Since everything a student posts is permanent—subject to searches by everyone from would-be employers to creepy people—students need to treat their social media presence as part of their very identity. What they post online should be something to be thoughtfully considered, guarded, and treated with utmost care.

Dr. Hinduja also focused as well on the world of cyberbullying, interspersing his lecture with YouTube videos made by teens who have suffered from the humiliating effects of campaigns waged against them. 

It’s not that our students would use smart phones or laptops to wage a Lord of the Flies-like power struggle. Even so, they need to hear from pros like Dr. Hinduja that the old saw, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” don’t always apply when those words are streaming through millions of social media accounts.

Social media guidelines for educational institutions have not been widely defined, yet are just as clearly needed. With that in mind, Williston Northampton is working on a set of social media guidelines that we hope will offer students, faculty, and staff helpful, practical advice for navigating social media.

Since these efforts to develop community resources are always ongoing, we welcome your suggestions. What do you keep in mind when you’re online?