Project Citizen

From left, Austin Nam, 16, Enoch Solano, 15, Jenny Huynh, 15, Eric Hernandez, 16, and Henry To, 16, are among the students of Atlantic City High School completing a project to try to get a crosswalk, better signage and sidewalks along Albany Avenue.

Atlantic City High School sophomores are taking their civics lessons out into the community.

One group wants more sidewalks along Albany Avenue to make walking home safer for students.

Another group wants to find a way to inform parents of how their children use social media.

A third group wants to develop an honor code to reduce cheating.

Now in its second year, Project Citizen has expanded from a small pilot program and includes every student taking U.S. History I, primarily the almost 500 sophomores. Social studies supervisor Pamela Hennelly said the goal is to teach the students how to become good citizens and active members of their communities.

Students must do a survey and interview experts or public officials involved with their project.

“They have to be able to reach out and talk to people, not just their friends,” Hennelly said.

Project Citizen is a national civics project that is coordinated in New Jersey by the Center for Civics Education at Rutgers University. Center Director Arlene Gardner said it is used at both middle and high schools and is an effective way to give students a real-life lesson in active citizenship. She said students in a Newark middle school lobbied for a stop light at an area where a student was killed, and did succeed in getting a stop sign.

“It’s a very cross curricular project,” she said. “Students can learn a lot.”

Last week students in Atlantic City High School history teacher Brad Sorensen’s class met with Principal John DeStefano about the sidewalk issue and discussed who would be responsible for a better crosswalk, sidewalks and more signage. The team had a binder full of data and photos they had taken showing broken pedestrian signs and bushes blocking the unpaved path and forcing pedestrians into the shoulder of the road.

Team member Cassie Gluck, of Atlantic City, said they found data showing that the Black Horse Pike and Albany Avenue were among the most dangerous roads in the county.

“We want to find a safer route for people who are walking,” she said.

DeStefano said the district provides busing, and has late buses for students who stay for after-school activities. But, he said, there are times when students miss the bus, or just don’t take it.

“We don’t encourage walking,” he said. “But we know students do, and they should be safe.”

The team surveyed about 150 students and found 98 said they have walked home, and 110 said it is not safe. Most said sidewalks and a guardrail would be the best solution.

Student Jenny Huynh, of Atlantic City, said she was hit last year while walking home, which is why she wants to improve conditions.

“I’m concerned about student and driver safety,” she said.

The team plans to try to meet with city and Atlantic County officials about what can be done. Other team members are Julia Falvo and Maja Kondzior, of Margate, and Kiersten Campbell and Malia Mason, of Ventnor.

Another group is developing an honor code that students would sign at the beginning of the year, promising not to cheat. Students said technology has made it easier to cheat and they want students to think more about what they are doing.

“You can use a cellphone to take a photo of a test and send it to someone else,” said student Ngoc Pham, of Atlantic City.

Team member Carol Nguyen, of Atlantic City, said they polled 200 students and 165 said they had cheated, and 185 said someone had cheated off of them. Seventy students said they thought it was acceptable and 173 said they do nothing to try to stop it.

“We also want to make teachers more aware so they can help prevent it,” Pham said. Other members of the team are Naja Long, Maddie Dougherty and Colin Talley, of Atlantic City, and Jay Shah, of Brigantine.

A third group said parents really don’t know how their children are using social media, making it easier for students to bully or be bullied, or to just post something they might later regret. (Note to parents: Facebook is out, Twitter and Instagram are in.)

Student Hannah Mackler, of Margate, said while using social media should be an issue for parents, not schools, the issues that come up affect students in school and schools can take a role in raising awareness. She said their survey showed most parents have access to their child’s social networking, but don’t monitor it very closely and don’t always understand it.

“Parents can’t talk about it because they really don’t know about it,” said student Meghan Holl, of Brigantine.

The team is recommending that information be sent home to parents, and that the school host an information session on social media use. Other team members are Skyler Dugan, of Brigantine, Irsa Khan, Sean McCabe and Bella Goodry, of Atlantic City, and Jimmy Drew, of Margate.

Sorensen and Hennelly said they will try to implement some of the student projects to show that they can get results.

The high school has a parent center that could host a social media workshop.

One group wants to move a school bus stop away from an adult store in the city, and another wants to do something about the school entrances that don’t have coverings so that students don’t get wet on bad weather days.

“They’ve looked at awnings and letting students wait on the bus while another group goes in,” Sorensen said. “They’ve talked to security and the vice principal.”

Some projects would take more than a school marking period. One group is looking at how to deal with flooding along Albany Avenue.

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