Summit Middle School Students, Police Tackle Fact-Based, Persuasive Learning
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 • 3:18pm
SUMMIT, NJ - A carefully crafted argument is a valuable tool in getting others to see your point of view. And since the students of Team 6A at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle were trying to make their point to a formidable group – the members of the Summit Police Department – they really needed to have a solid, persuasive approach.
Through a problem-based learning project, “Summit Speaks Out,” the students learned how to gather facts to support an opinion and to present that opinion through effective, persuasive writing. The project was developed by instructional specialist Nicole Plumbo and language arts teacher Deborah Schwarzman.
“Our goal was to teach the students how to support their opinions with facts and how to present those opinions through persuasive writing,” said Schwarzman. “We also wanted to expand their thinking beyond the walls of the classroom by providing them with an authentic audience.”
The teachers contacted Summit Police Chief Robert Weck with a proposal to establish a communication between the students and police officers through Google.docs. The plan was for students to share their opinions through persuasive writing pieces posted on Google.com. The officers could then respond electronically to the students. Weck readily agreed, and the school district’s Technology Department arranged the online connection.
The educators assigned the topics, as well as a pro or con position, to teams of students.
The topics included potentially controversial issues relative to the life of a middle schooler such as “hanging out” downtown, riding skateboards or bikes on sidewalks, sneaking into R-rated movies. After the students had gathered facts to support their assigned opinions, they practiced debating the topics among themselves before tackling their persuasive writing piece.
Students Brooke Beckett and Akea Poticano, for example, wrote an essay defending the rule of Summit’s Family Aquatic Center that a child must be at least 11 years of age to be at the pool without a parent or guardian. Middle school students loitering downtown is not a good idea according to Julian Rupkey and Ryan Feeley, who claim that the presence of a large group of young people might discourage potential customers from entering stores or that extended unsupervised time could mean trouble for the teenagers. Ava Spotts and Ruby Hodges believe that boys and girls should be able to ride their bikes on the city’s sidewalks to avoid the dangers of the busy traffic on Summit’s streets.
Juvenile Officer Matt Buntin and Weck read the students’ essays, and the chief responded online to each team of students.
I thought they all did a great job on developing their points of view and then defending them,” said Weck. “Whether they were ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in their opinion was secondary. It was the hard work and thought they put into their essays that most impressed me.”
The chief said he hoped his replies to the students helped them to understand that there are many reasons why ordinances have been established and that the purpose of the law is to benefit everyone.
“I would love to see this type of project between the police and students continue in the coming years,” he said. “I think it was a win/win all around. As with the D.A.R.E. program, the Youth Police Academy, our Baseball Card Program, and many other activities the police sponsor, it is always about interacting with the youth to build bridges and relationships that will continue on through the years.”
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