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Forest Hills High students get lessons in citizenship

Russell Smith, 15, center, a Forest Hills High School sophomore, speaks to a panel of judges about illegal firearms and the need for changes in the state’s gun policies.

Fifteen groups of Forest Hills High School students tackled some tough social issues Wednesday (Nov. 18, 2009), presenting their ideas for change to a panel of judges in topics ranging from teenage obesity to juveniles being tried as adults.
The students were participating in Project Citizen, a portfolio-based civic education program in the United States that helps teachers and students understand public policy.
Forest Hills High School civics teacher Bryan Rudolph, who has coordinated his school’s participation in Project Citizen for the past four semesters, was pleased with his students’ choice of topics. “Across the board, I’m very pleased with the projects and topics. I couldn’t have hoped for better work. The students are all doing a really good job. They are very brave in their topic choices and I appreciate their bravery.”
Students tackled some tough social issues: sexual harassment in schools, teen smoking, depression, abortion, racial profiling, high school dropouts, driving under the influence, gun policies, sexual abuse, funding of the arts in school, sex education in public schools, right to privacy on social networking sites, and profits for US dairy farmers.
The event is more of a showcase of student work rather than a competition, even though judges rated the students’ presentations. Those judges included educators, local and state elected officials, clergy and members of the business community.
One judge, NC Representative Pryor Gibson (Dem), said the project was an excellent opportunity for students to practice dealing with real life issues and to try making policy to better those issues.
Gibson said that some of the topics, especially the ones that delved into specific situations such as profits for US dairy farmers, posed some interesting questions. “Is it realistic to ask for a tariff on farm dairy products to help the domestic dairy farmer? It’s certainly worth talking about,” he said.
Natalie High, 15, and Russell Smith, 15, both Forest Hills High School sophomores, said participation in the research project was an excellent learning experience.
“Our group’s project is on teen obesity,” High said. “If you walk around school, you’ll see overweight kids. Obesity causes so many health problems. Our government is not taking this seriously. They’re not doing enough in the school system to help fight obesity.”
High’s group proposed that the Board of Education and/or state legislators make high school graduation require four hours of physical education credits rather than the one credit hour that is now required. “When I was a freshman, I took PE my first semester, so I’m done with PE for the rest of my high school career. I play sports, but what about those students who don’t?”
Smith, whose group tackled gun policies, said Project Citizen has been an opportunity for students to research a problem and then attempt to find solutions for that problem. “It teaches you how to research a topic and how to get a lot of information about that topic, then get a plan as to the best path to take to solve that problem. I think this also helps you to develop leadership skills, putting your opinion out there and then trying to persuade others to go along with it.”
Diane R. Wright, the state coordinator for Project Citizen and the director of Law-related Education, said actual laws have been passed in the United States based on these student projects, which have been taken beyond the school walls.
“Stop signs have been put up, for example, after students saw other students killed,” she said. “These students actually presented and had public policy passed over traffic signs.”   
Rudolph, who is also the District Nine coordinator for Project Citizen, said today’s youth is more active than ever in community service projects, but rarely gets involved in government issues and politics.
“By doing this program, I hope that as my students develop into adults, they will become more involved in their community and make a difference,” he said. “I want students to learn a lesson in civic responsibility. That lesson is if there is a problem that exists in the community, jump on that problem and take care of solving it.”
Project Citizen in North Carolina, which is under the NC Bar Association, will see some of the Forest Hills High School students present their projects in Raleigh in April 2010.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Nov 20, 2009 by

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