CLARK, NJ - The members of Civics Unplugged attended their last forum session of the school year recently.  Gabriella Cuccaro, Kayla Dias, Nicole Katz, Brenner Gull, Bailey Latza, and Maryann Makosieji, traveled to the prestigious and historic Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, in New York City, to explore issues and engage in beneficial discussion in their last session. There has been eight sessions this year each being held once a month on a Sunday afternoon.

 However, the last session was different from the other's in the way that members of Civics Unplugged were allowed to bring one guest with them to experience and learn from the program. Ashley Cuccaro, sister of member Gabriella Cuccaro, attended the session and said  “I very much enjoyed the program and the amazing opportunities it has given us youth to find our voices and use it in a way that is productive in our society. I look forward to possibly joining this wonderful program next year!”.

 Throughout the year the mentors, leaders, and creators of Civics Unplugged have emphasized that “The goal of Civics U is to equip young people to understand their rights, roles, and responsibilities and strengthen their ability to engage with people from different backgrounds, appreciate multiple perspectives, and foster civic discourse,” said by Co-Founder Sanda Balaban. In the last forum, students had the opportunity to foster great civic discourse in the workshops they attended on voting rights/gerrymandering, immigration, press, media and social media, infrastructure, gentrification and affordable housing, freedom of expression.

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 In each workshop, members and guests talked about recent news in each topic, learned about the issue, and discussed how each topic both positively and negatively affects government and society today. Nicole Katz said her favorite topic to discuss was “Freedom of expression, because there is so many interpretations and perspectives on what it means to be able to use your freedom of expression and speech and it is extremely interesting to learn about others’ viewpoints on this topic.”

After the students thoroughly discussed the topics they were allowed to return to a workshop they felt most passionate about to propose a civic solution that could fix or temporarily fix their issue. All the groups came up with extremely interesting and creative solutions and were judged in front of Civic Sharks (Teachers and Mentors) who were playing the role of Congress. Each solution was judged on the criteria of power of the idea/desirability, potential civic impact, feasibility, and bipartisan appeal. The ideas were extremely powerful and it only showed how much strength the next generation has in their growing knowledge of civics.

Students wrapped up their eventful day with pizza and cupcakes and a closing discussion, where they talked about their main takeaways from Civics Unplugged. Members received the news that Civics Unplugged will return next year.  Students were overjoyed at the chance to return back to the program they love.The goal for the program next year is to “Include a few more schools, target sophomores as Fellows (with a sprinkling of enthusiastic Juniors), interview and select a group of returning Fellows to serve as Discussion Facilitators and Civic Mentors to the sophomores, and do more to foster deeper relationship building across schools.  This will provide a deeper divergence of perspectives since the most consistent critique received this year is that people came to agreement too quickly,” as stated by Baladan.

New and old students reported being eager and looking forward to the return of Civics Unplugged next year and  to continue to develop their civic knowledge.

Editor's Note:   Gabriella Cuccaro  is an Arthur J. Johnson High School student and a member of the Crusader Today-ALJ Student News which is solely responsible for this content.