The Lunchtime Open Forum — Something New at SMHS

An opportunity for students, teachers, admins, and staff to come together in my room, once a month, five times a year, to civilly discuss an issue of contemporary significance.

Since the start of school, I have been working to bring something new to SMHS — an opportunity for students, teachers, admins, and staff to come together in my room at lunch, once a month, five times a year, to civilly discuss an issue of contemporary significance.

The concept was field tested at lunch, Wednesday, October 25. The question of contemporary significance discussed — what political status should the US Congress grant Puerto Rico?

To answer this question, all attendees were told, in advance and via email, to consider the following four possible options:

  • Option #1: Commonwealth
  • Option #2: Enhanced Commonwealth
  • Option #3: Statehood
  • Option #4: Independence

To better understand the pros and cons relating to each of the four options, open forum attendees were provided in advance with a link to a four-page read produced by the nationally acclaimed Constitutional Rights Foundation. The article was entitled Puerto Rico: Commonwealth, Statehood, or Independence?

My zero-hour US History class hosted the October field-test.

  • Jr. Ellie Kanda moderated
  • Jr. Ethan Wu gave a three-minute slide presentation on Hurricane Maria
  • Jr. Mansi Gokani gave a three-minute slide show presentation on President Trump’s response to the Hurricane

Total number of participants 35 (approximately fifteen teachers and twenty students. All attendees were given a minute or so to express their answer to the question.

As the open forum ended, attendees were asked to answer a Poll Everywhere question appearing on the screen at the front of the room. Here are the results.

The students treated everyone to lunch (chile and sandwiches, courtesy of funding provided by Assistant Principal Doug Berry, with desserts made by Jr’s. Mary Alford and Emily Boutin).

In the days since . . .

  • One of my students, Crystal Wu, wrote a story about it all for the Titan Shield, the school newspaper. The story is entitled Room for Debate.
  • Another one of my students, Hanna Von, produced a 1:48 video describing this effort of teachers and students to “step-up.”
  • The SMHS Video Productions teacher Robbin Rae McCulloch produced a 1:17 youtube video in which she congratulated the zero-hour history students for their effort.
  • And the 2016 SMUSD Teacher-of-the-Year and SMHS US History teacher Steve Ford came into my zero-hour US History class to personally congratulate the students on a job well done.

My third-period Honors US History course will host a similar event in November, with my second-period class hosting the event in January, first-period in February, and fifth period in March.

If I learned a great lesson from the experience, it is that ground rules for civic discourse must be presented to all at the beginning of lunch. From here out, a poster containing the Lunchtime Open Forum will be appear on the wall at the front of the during and be presented to all forum attendees at the start of the forum. The poster will look like this:

In the future, one or more special guests will be invited to attend via video conferencing technology.

See below for photographs taken during the Lunchtime Open Forum #1:

Open Forum #2 is scheduled for Wednesday, November 29, 2017 (should statues located in a public space and honoring leaders of the Confederacy be permitted to remain as a historical symbol or should they be removed because they are offensive to some people?)

Open Forum #3 is scheduled for the end of January (should energy drinks be regulated); Open Forum #4 is scheduled for the end of February (should school start later in the day?); Open Forum #5, the last Open Forum of the year, is scheduled for end of March (should the voting age, for city elections, be lowered to 16?)

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Peter Paccone

High school APUSH teacher with much in-class and online teaching experience. Also a blogger, keynote speaker, editor, podcast host, and conference presenter.