CALDWELL, NJ — As Caldwell-West Caldwell (CWC) Public Schools embarks on a new fifth-grade curriculum, the district invited Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Former Gov. Richard Codey and U.S. House of Representatives candidate Mikie Sherrill to speak with nearly 250 fifth graders on Wednesday at Lincoln Elementary School and answer any questions they had about how the legislative process works, what critical issues currently face the state, and what is involved in running for a government position.
The global curriculum, which was adopted in the CWC district to address the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, is designed to teach fifth graders what it means to be a global citizen and to build their knowledge from the ground up.
Lincoln School teacher Christina Dunne said pledging allegiance to the country every morning and building the students’ knowledge of civics through books and discussions is not enough. According to Dunne, the district’s goal is to reinforce what the students have been learning in the classroom by providing them with experience-based learning opportunities like Wednesday’s assembly.
“This is just one of many we have planned,” she said to the students. “We hope that this assembly will encourage you to become active citizens, make you want to learn more about issues, energize your desire to volunteer and serve others, take up causes you believe in, encourage you to communicate with your elected officials and vote when you come of age.”
Jasey, who currently represents Caldwell in the NJ Assembly, discussed how a bill becomes a law, and how the students can become a part of that process. As an example, she spoke about the dangers of plastic, stating that this is an international issue that “the adults have not yet really figured out,” and challenged the students to communicate with their classmates about how to solve this problem.
“It’s very effective to have young people come and tell us things,” said Jasey. “It’s up to you, the people, to come up with ideas about how to make our world a better place. My challenge to you is, when you go back to your classes, I hope you’ll talk about this, I hope you’ll do some research on this…this is an international issue that you can begin to solve right here in New Jersey in your own communities.”
Jasey added that she was excited to see the CWC district combining science and social studies for fifth graders through this new curriculum.
Prior to discussing how legislators work to meet the needs of voters, Codey, who currently represents Caldwell in the NJ Senate, spoke to the students about growing up in Orange, being the first member of his family to go to college, and becoming the governor of New Jersey. He assured them that anyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or otherwise, can become the president or a governor of the United States.
“In that kind of environment, you’re not expected to become a governor,” he said of his own circumstances. “There are no excuses—whatever your background is, it doesn’t matter what you are. If I can become a governor, so can you.”
He also spoke about some of the projects he was involved in as governor, including banning smoking in public places and building MetLife Stadium, the home football stadium of the New York Giants and New York Jets, without using taxpayer dollars. He then fielded questions from the students, who asked about the inner workings of the checks-and-balances process; how voting works within the Senate; his experiences with passing versus vetoing bills; and what the hardest part of being governor was.
Mikie Sherrill, a Montclair resident currently running against Rodney Frelinghuysen for New Jersey’s 11th congressional district, discussed what is involved in running for office and why she is doing so.
“If you really love your country, and if you really love serving your country, and if you really love serving your friends and neighbors, you might want to run for office,” said Sherrill. “It’s a really exciting thing to do, but it’s also a lot of hard work…I decided that I was concerned about my community and I was concerned about my neighbors and my kids and I wanted to represent that in Congress.”
Students told Sherrill some of their personal concerns, like smoking and littering, and asked her about the hardest part of running for Congress; her opinions on specific issues like high taxes and health insurance; and about her experience as a helicopter pilot in the Navy.
She also told students that the most important thing they can do as U.S. citizens is to vote in elections and encouraged them to not only do so when they come of age, but to also urge their families to vote and to communicate with their elected officials about their concerns.
“For 10 and 11 year olds, I was very impressed with the knowledge they came into the discussion with,” said Scott Keena, principal of Wilson Elementary School. “Equally as impressive was the questions that they had for the three panelists.”
Three students from each of the elementary schools—Jefferson, Wilson, Washington and Lincoln—also posed prepared questions for each panel member. Some of these included how Codey’s two government positions were similar or different; which current state law Jasey would change if she could; if it’s hard for Jasey to be a woman in government; how running for Congress has changed Sherrill’s life; and one thing Sherrill will fight for if elected.
Wednesday's assembly was one of many future opportunities for the district's fifth graders to come together in one room for important discussions on similar topics. The teachers and local dignitaries in attendance were enthusiastic about the students' participation and impressed by the topics they showed interest in.
“In addition to the content of this program, having opportunities for all the fifth graders to get together prior to joining together at the middle school next year and also to connect with members of the community that they might not necessarily connect with in their own lives was really important,” said Barbara Adams, principal of Washington School.
As the curriculum continues, students will look at what it means to be a citizen within their own classroom walls, then build their understanding by looking at citizenship and the Sustainable Development Goals to determine local and state issues—expanding once again to national concerns, and culminating with looking at global issues.
Lab sessions and choice activities will also be integrated into the curriculum for students to have opportunities to be exposed to new experiences as well as hone in on their personal interests.
According to the district, this new curriculum will allow students to engage in meaningful conversations, debates and critical thinking sessions.