Recently Highland Superintendent Joel Freer highlighted a program the district supports called the Seal of Civic Readiness.
Social Studies teacher Christina Saylor described the scope of the approved program.
“The Seal of Civic Readiness is an academic honor that students can earn and have the Seal placed on their diploma when they graduate,” she said.
Saylor provided a guidebook that outlines the details of the program. It states that by April 1 of their senior year, a student, “must provide evidence in Civic Knowledge and Civic Participation.” They earn points for completing a high school civic project, achieve a proficiency in an elective course that promotes civic engagement, completes a Citizens in Action course as well as taking the required four credits in Social Studies, scoring a grade of 65 or better in Social Studies Regents exams and by completing a research project.
The Social Studies courses touch upon Global History and Geography and United States History and Government.
Saylor said the “big point earner” on the skill side for students is called the Capstone Project.
The guidebook states that in this project, students will; identify a civic issue (problem) facing them, their school or community and evaluate alternative solutions, design and/or execute a solution for this problem; and take informed action to address the civic issue; reflect on what is learned about their school or community during this process and make a presentation about their Capstone Project to the school’s Readiness Committee.
Saylor said, “from the first day, students were just as excited as I was about what projects they wanted to do. In order to complete a Capstone project, students have to either address a need or strengthen an asset and I just love that framework, I love the idea of [it being] solution-based and having the students think that way. Our community would be so much better if everybody was trained to think of solutions because everybody can point out a problem.”
Saylor recalled that during the pandemic, a number of students wanted more emphasis placed upon mental health, “and came up with the idea of adding student mental health days to a list of approved absences for kids to take off...so the school would know what is going on and could counsel them; it’s kind of a first round identification.” She said this led to the students speaking at the NYS Mental Health Association Conference and ultimately made Highland the first school in the state to pilot a Junior Youth Peer Advocate.
“It is a peer to peer support group and that came about because of the good work my classes were doing to address mental health,” she said, adding that at the local level is where the work gets done. “I keep telling the kids that you’re going to find a problem and are going to move the needle toward a solution. You might move it a lot [or] you might nudge it a little, but you’re going to create something with this program; you are going to make Highland better.”
Saylor said mostly juniors and seniors are in the program, who may have more of a background in civics and politics, but it is open to all four high school grades. She expects 15 students will graduate this year who have earned the Seal of Readiness distinction.
“The state of Civics education in schools is so poor and this is such a great way for kids to be able to show that they are interested in Civics,” she said. “It’s an alternate path for a kid who may have failed the Social Studies Regents to earn the points.”
Saylor reached out to Ulster County Legislator Gina Hansut, who agreed to sit on their Committee. She will try to partner students with different organizations and resources, “and I was able to come up with a few that they didn’t think of and I think the partnership will really work out.”
Hansut suggested that students also could work with the Ulster County Veteran Services and the Office of the Aging, “and I was just happy that I could suggest something right off the bat. I feel like I’m helping students partner with county agencies.”
Hansut is also thinking of connecting students with the Highland Library, local food pantries, nursing homes and pre-k programs.
“The students have to come up with projects that meet this criteria where they feel they can somehow make a difference,” she said. “This is the first year doing this, so there will be a big learning curve for everybody, but I think it’s great because the students can look beyond their high school years and see a connection to the community. I feel it’s going to help guide students for their future as they work on their civic projects.”