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Deliberative Forum Focuses on Financial Crisis

Weeks of planning by Huntington High School teachers, student researchers and alumni culminated in an evening economic forum last week that focused on the recession that has gripped the United States and countries across the world since 2008.

Teachers James Graber, Jordan Gould, Bill Byrne and humanities department chairman Joseph Leavy spearheaded the initiative. The faculty group worked for several weeks with student researchers and alumni and formed respective teams that took different positions on the root causes of the economic crisis and the reasons why it has lingered.

"The students had spent many periods of the day researching their topics and practicing their roles," Huntington librarian Patricia Dillon said. "I was so impressed at the poise they showed and their commitment to their side as they addressed the assembly of students."

Teams of students were paired with one of the four teachers that organized the forum. Huntington alums Ken Wood, Amanda Mohlenoff and Marisol Maddox assisted in putting the evening together and facilitating the working groups. Separate discussions over the course of the evening further narrowed the forum issue and identified solutions and the trade-offs that come with them.

Teachers supervised student preparatory work. The faculty members helped the participating students to gain an appreciation of the deliberative process, which an integral aspect of the participation in government course at Huntington High School.

"This process, also known as 'choice work,' is essential to the mission and longstanding research of the Kettering Foundation, which I was fortunate to learn about through Hofstra University Professor Michael D'Innocenzo," Mr. Leavy said. The longtime Huntington faculty member participated in two separate Kettering Foundation research and think-tank conferences, which ultimately helped spur last week's economic session.

Dozens of Huntington students participated in the forum. "Turnout was exceptional and it provided for a very interesting evening, especially seeing that the students were aware of the financial crisis the country is facing," Mrs. Dillon said.

Professor D'Innocenzo, who serves as director of Hofstra's Center for Civics Engagement, has provided ongoing support for the deliberative forum initiative, including the teaching and modeling aspects associated with the process. The forum includes not only research into an issue, but also a "naming and framing" process that seeks to include all citizens in addressing issues through widespread participation.

"We, as social studies teachers, modeled this process that evening, not by presenting the information and skill ourselves in a didactic manner, but rather by having the students take over control of the process that they have been learning for months," Mr. Leavy said. "The results were outstanding and moved us along toward what is hopefully a more engaged citizenry."

Mr. Leavy expressed his appreciation for the work put in by his faculty colleagues and the three alumni members who acted as mentors, guiding current high school students through an intricate process of in-depth research, rhetorical strategies and debate and deliberation techniques "that can serve them, our community and the public well in moving toward a most civil society which addresses head-on the challenges of seemingly intractable and so-called 'wicked' issues."

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