UNION, NJ – The Township of Union school district has announced details on the reinstated Academy for Policy, Publishing and Debate program offered to students at both Burnet and Kawameeh Middle Schools, grades 6 to 8.

In aligning with the New Generation of Science Standards (NGSS), a multi-state effort to create new education standards, arranged in a coherent manner across all disciplines and grades, the mission for the program is to supplement scientific writing, language arts, and to improve conflict resolution skills utilizing research and public debate.  The program will also support the benchmarks required for success in various district assessments.

For acceptance into the program, students were required to write a mandatory narrative with references to support their position about assigned debatable topics. Short interviews were conducted where students explained their views on their chosen topic. The program will run on Wednesdays and Fridays, from 2:50 p.m. to 3:50 p.m., at the students’ respective Middle Schools. The academy officially began Wednesday, January 11, for all students who met the requirements, and will conclude on May 15.

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The program is aimed at teaching students to obtain, evaluate, and communicate information from various sources through evidence based research.

The Academy was initially implemented by the Township’s former superintendent with the help of Tommy Harrell, Vice Principal at Burnet Middle School, and current writer and administrator of the revamped program.  Harrell worked with the former superintendent to successfully run the academy for four years until funding issues caused it to cease.  In early 2016, Central Office Administration along with Mr. Harrell began work on the first edit of the re-initiation of the program.

“The credit really goes to Gregory Tatum and his team of administrators for working with the Board to allow me to rebrand the program and making the funds available to reinstitute the program,” Harrell said.

“We brought this program back as a regular district initiative as outlined in the district’s Action Plan of August 2016, said Tatum.  “We were able to bring this program back through a reallocation of funds that was realized by a reorganization of Central Office staff.  The cost savings was designated to an instructional line for the purpose of the restoration of the Middle School Academy.  I believe it is essential to pass along the savings to our students to enhance programs that support our curriculum offerings that are aligned to improve student achievement.”

Students start each day with the following mantra: “Seeds of Greatness,” a reminder to students that they are gaining the knowledge needed each day to become great.  Over the course of five months, students will be placed into different groups to research a variety of topics for an upcoming debate. They choose an affirmative or negative stance and write a narrative describing their views.

With the guidance of the academy’s facilitators and mentors, students will begin to formulate their opinions and work together to find their voice, culminating with a formal debate where both sides can present their case. After both sides have presented, the groups go into a rebuttal phase where the opposing side will use research to show why their position is better. At the end of the debate session, a panel of facilitators will give feedback to each group based on an established rubric. Feedback will include areas of strengths and weaknesses and students will also be given the opportunity to give each other feedback (peer editing).

Those facilitators and mentors include current Union High School students who attended the academy while they were in middle school.  In addition, industry leaders from JP Morgan Chase, Procter and Gamble, and Broadway have also signed on as mentors and educators.  Students will learn about public speaking and communication skills from the likes of Actress Allison Williams and James Pazzaglia, Executive Director of Global Real Estate Development at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati.

Burnet Vice Principal Harrell also met with educational leaders at several universities including Kean, Fairleigh Dickinson and Stockton to discuss the retooling of the program and to seek their expertise to help achieve success. Dean Claudine Keenan, Dean of Education at Stockton University was intrigued by the idea of the program and has offered to send staff members to help with the academy as well as be a panelist for the debates.

“Through the program, we are looking to instill confidence and self-assurance in our students not just academically, but also personally. We want students to learn to research their points before making them,” stated Harrell.

Part of the re-initiation approach is to closely observe pre and post data to see how the students perform on the PARCC test as well as other assessments in comparison to other students. The culminating activity for students will include a final debate for families and community leaders. There will also be an overnight stay at Stockton University where students and their mentors will engage in a debate with the top ten debaters from Burnet and Kawameeh.

For more information on the academy, please contact Tommy Harrell directly at tharrell@twpunionschools.org or (908) 851-4693