CALDWELL, NJ - Three groups of students from Grover Cleveland Middle School (GCMS), Caldwell, travelled to Washington, D.C., on Friday, April 4, to see and hear first-hand what it is like to be a Supreme Court Justice of the United States. The students, representing eighth graders from the school’s Ecology Club, eighth-grade social studies class, and seventh-grade Live a Life that Matters program, travelled to our nation’s capital to meet Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, speak with him about our government and what it is like to be a Supreme Court Justice, and tour the Supreme Court chambers.  The group also spoke to and met with Josh Sanders, the legislative assistant on environmental and transportation issues to Senator Robert Menendez. A culminating activity for the students, who have been challenged by their teachers to become 21st Century citizens by looking at the changing and expanding ways citizens are now interacting in their communities, their country and the world, the trip helped the students visualize what they have been studying. 

“Our students have been learning about the new responsibilities of effective citizens with an understanding that their world has become more complex yet more accessible,” said seventh grade teacher Maura Lincoln. “Our Founding Fathers encouraged a sense of the Common Good, a responsibility of all citizens to help their communities in different ways.”

Originated by Lincoln, seventh-grade Civics classes at GCMS practice giving to the Common Good, as part of a program called “Live a Life That Matters”.  The students learn that in order for a democracy to be strong, it needs informed and active citizens. The program gets the students out into the community, reading student-created storybooks about the Bill of Rights, making meatloaf for a local soup kitchen, learning about programs such as Habitats for Humanity, and more. Currently, the students are working with a local senior citizen assisted living community, sharing time and conversations.

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Eighth-grade students in Trevor McLaughlin’s Ancient and Medieval World History Social Studies class focused on historical empathy and awareness of other cultures. The students try to create a better context between their local and global worlds.

The students met with Justice Alito, getting a tour of the Supreme Court Chambers, asking questions, and even posing for a group photo.

“The absolute best part of the trip was meeting Justice Alito,” said a seventh-grade student. “He answered all of our questions and the chambers were great to see!”

The trip, which also included a quick visit to the Botanical Gardens, included seventh and eighth-grade students from seventh-grade teacher Jane Kinkle’s Ecology Club. The Ecology Club students have been working on local environmental issues, such as the N.J. anti-idling law, which is a town ordinance in Caldwell. The club’s climate change team, who presented to the Borough of Caldwell Town Council earlier this year about the dangers of idling and participated in the 4H-Rutgers Teen Summit on Climate, is spreading the word about the negative impact that climate change will have on New Jersey, from agriculture to sea level.