Civic readiness students showcase their projects

By Mark Reynolds
Posted 5/15/24

Last week, students in Christina Saylor’s Civic Readiness class at Highland High School held an end of the year showcase of the individual projects they conceived and worked on from the …

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Civic readiness students showcase their projects


Last week, students in Christina Saylor’s Civic Readiness class at Highland High School held an end of the year showcase of the individual projects they conceived and worked on from the beginning of the school year. The students were tasked with either strengthening an asset or solving a problem.

Saylor was pleased with how well the showcase went.

“I think my biggest takeaway was that every kid grew in some way, either they grew as seeing themselves in the community or they grew themselves personally and gained skills to speak out,” she said. “Sometimes they change the world with their projects and sometimes the projects change them, which is pretty cool.”

Saylor said it was a risk to allow the students the freedom to choose and create different projects.

“It was really challenging to juggle sometimes; I felt like I was spinning plates at the circus but I am glad that I had such a variety of so many different projects,” she said. “I hope they realize they have left a tangible mark upon the community. This particular group is always going to be really very special, as we were on this trip together. They were my first group and they were my babies.”

Superintendent Joel Freer said he is impressed with Saylor’s commitment toward getting this class up and running but also with quality of the student’s final projects.

“She’s done an incredible job and these kids have done some really outstanding projects that not only are going to impact their own lives, but they’re gonna leave a lasting impression on other kids,” he said. “Saylor has worked very hard helping to guide them and steer them to fit projects to what their interests are and how they are going to impact other people.”

Alice Dong spearheaded the creation of the Mid Hudson Valley Asian Student Alliance. She grew up in Highland and saw there was a lack of Asian-American representation in her school and found this to be true in other schools in Ulster County.

At a meeting she organized in March at the Highland Public Library, Alice touched upon the question of “Do I Belong,” a key part of the theme of the meeting: “Most people feel a strong connection with their culture, the holidays, the foods, music, language and the traditions and these should be an important part of their lives.”

Lloyd Supervisor Dave Plavchak said, “I am impressed by the imagination that they have, the way they attack solving a problem and I was very interested in what problems they ran into trying to do it and how they solved them.”

The goal of Daisy Ortiz’s project was aimed at building a connection between generations. Twice she went to Woodland Pond, a senior living community in New Paltz. Besides asking the seniors she met to share their own life stories, she also asked them to talk about a photo that holds a special meaning for them.

“Some brought a photo of a loved one who passed away, a picture of their cat and whole scrapbooks of their lives,” she said. “They all had a good time.” Ortiz returned and organized a game day for the seniors.

Ortiz enjoyed the Civic Readiness class, finding it very motivating, and she expects to take the class again next year.

Emma Fritche focused on ways to promote respect, appropriate behavior and compassion among her peers. She started by building a colorful ‘Buddy Bench’ that will be placed in the playground at the elementary school. If someone was feeling left out they can sit on the bench, “and ideally someone would come over and say do you want to play or sit with me.” After researching the bench idea, she found she was drawn to this project and loved the teacher and the class.

Cameron Adoma put together a project about the Civil Rights Movements of the late 1960s through to the 1980s, with a focus on the Black Panther Party, because his textbook had only two sentences about this misunderstood group.

Adoma said as he worked on his project he became so interested in history that he thinks he will major in African-Americsn studies in college with the goal of becoming a teacher who will include the story of all races and cultures. He already has a sketch outline of a more inclusive and enlightening history book.

High School Principal Kevin Murphy said this is an outstanding senior class.

“The projects they put together are characteristic of their abilities and shows what they are capable of; when they put their minds to something, they follow through on it and you see the end result with everything that is presented here this evening,” he said. “There are very diverse offerings from composting, to a Buddy Bench to the Asian Student Alliance. There are so many types of personalities in these projects that go into their creation and I think this is a good indication of what they are going to do in the future.”

Michael Duncan tackled the issue of student mental health, saying he does not consider himself a ‘traditional learner.’

“The best avenue for me is hands-on like advocating and going out there to make a difference,” he said.

Duncan said his aim is to raise awareness of mental health in schools, “because that is obviously a major issue. I struggle with stress in school and I think everybody struggles with it.”

Duncan said this issue is more apparent in his generation mostly due to the use and misuse of social media, saying, “it’s more out there.” His project focuses on how people can de-stress and how to relax outside of school.

“It’s a very broad thing because there is no one way for people to de-stress. I put instructive pictures up in the hallway for people to see that it’s OK to de-stress and relax once in awhile.” he said.

Ulster County Legislator Gina Hansut was part of an advisory committee to help students “target exactly what they wanted to accomplish.” She said the committee would meet once a month to monitor the progress of the students.

“It’s very exciting to come here tonight to see the projects happen,” Hansut said.