Students discuss law and politics in Democracy Fellowship Program
On October 7, the Democracy Fellowship Program had its first meeting at PHS to discuss social and political issues relating to the First Amendment of the Constitution and its application to modern life. Carol Golden, a former lawyer and law teacher, and Hannah Schmidl, the library’s humanities fellow, led this discussion-based program that engages approximately 12 sophomores and juniors in the Princeton area.
Golden, who created the program, received help from social studies teacher John Baxter of Princeton High School in the primary stages of planning, and then initiated the program with Schmidl. “I was thinking that young people could use more of an opportunity to be engaged in social and civic life,” Golden said. “I think Mr. Baxter helped me see that in some of the curriculum in the high school, there is just not time scheduled to maybe dive a little deeper into subjects that students might be interested in, help in the democracy they live in, and be more civically engaged.”
The program meets every Wednesday after school in room 275. “Because it’s an extracurricular, it has the potential to have kids [participate] because they are curious about this stuff, and will learn more about it,” said Golden, who hopes the program will foster students’ interest in the field of political and civil matters pertaining to life in present day.
Along with group-led discussions, Golden and Schmidl plan to bring in speakers from the library’s series on the humanities. Currently, Schmidl expects a speaker on October 21 to discuss the future of marriage, including legal issues surrounding it.
As high school students have schedules packed with activities, Golden is concerned that students will drop the commitment, although no students have dropped so far. “I realized how busy high school students are,” she said. “The downside could be that this is just one more thing that kids thought they wanted to do and they think it sounds interesting, but then when it comes to it they don’t have time for this.”
Because this program goes into depth about United States law, it has attracted students who aim to learn more about law than they have in regular academic courses. “I’m hoping to learn more about the way [the First Amendment] applies to the law,” said Maddy Troilo ’17. “I’m really interested in law [and] politics, and those are two things that are the focus of the program—so it seemed like a really good fit.”
Lifted ban on some extracurriculars leads to record-high number of clubs
Although negotiations over teacher contracts halted club meetings and events last year, club activity at PHS has bounced back, with the school hosting upwards of 110 different clubs. According to Dean of Students Diana Lygas, there has been an overall club growth of ten to 15 percent, and many of these new clubs feature a range of activities, from crafts and baking to scientific research.
Although the number of clubs has increased, little in the club regulations has changed from previous years. According to Lygas, a club merely needs five interested students, an advisor, and a mission in order to form.
Many students are now implementing ideas they have considered in the past, contributing to the rise in club activity. “I [created the Board Game Club] this year because last year I was a freshman so I didn’t really want to start a club,” said Michael Meyer ’18. “I talked to a lot of people this year and they seemed interested so I just decided to go for it.”
Yet, because of the increasing number of clubs, leaders are having trouble getting advisors for the new groups. “[Finding] an advisor [was] difficult, because we’d ask teachers and they’d be already booked with something,” said Rose Bell ’17, explaining challenges she and Ursula Blanchard ’17 faced when creating the PHS Do-It-Yourself club.
In spite of the obstacles, club leaders share the desire to help their fellow classmates, with some providing an opportunity for leisure time. “We want to make it a fun atmosphere,” Bell said. “In high school there are a lot of pressures, academically [and] socially, especially as juniors. But here, people can be stress-free.”
In addition to stress relief, other club leaders aim to fuel the academic aspirations of students. Jiyoung Kang ’17 participated in a program funded and supported by Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute, and as a result, decided to found the Waksman Club at PHS to encourage scientific research among students. “I don’t want people to be intimidated by science and molecular biology,” Kang said. “I hope people will really learn the beauty of it … It’s a great start for people to gain interest and learn more about what it’s really like.”
Not only are students looking forward to the return and initiation of clubs, but club advisors are excited as well. “One thing that’s impressive about our school is that we have so many opportunities for everybody that wants to do something,” said history teacher and History Bowl advisor Rick Miller.
Other staff members at PHS are also enthusiastic about student clubs this year. “I am psyched for the large number [of clubs] because I really believe in the importance of clubs in the student experience,” Lygas said. “It is a huge part of PHS life and I missed it!”