A newly established civics course will be a requirement for seniors at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) going forward.
History teacher and social studies department chair Olsen Houghton presented a broad explanation of the curriculum as it stands to school officials during Monday’s MVRHS school committee meeting.
Instead of placing senior students in different classrooms and separating the curriculum into phases for each room, the entire senior class will take part in the course, in the Performing Arts Center, as a large, interactive lecture.
From there, students will break into smaller groups to focus on different areas of civics and to collaborate with one another and with the seven teachers who are leading the course.
With climate change heading off the year’s course material, seven other topics will guide the curriculum throughout the year, including government and politics, human rights, civil rights, globalization, global economies, and even some Island history related to civics.
The course culminates in a school giveback day, where students involved in the course create an action plan to give back to the Island community in whatever way they can.
This month, Houghton said, some highlights of the course include two scientists visiting from the Woodwell Climate Research Center who both sat on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The scientists’ report was used by the U.N. when looking at the seriousness of climate change impacts within the next few decades, according to Houghton.
Additionally, a group called Protect Our Winters is heading to MVRHS in October to discuss the impacts that climate change has on recreational winter activities like skiing and snowboarding.
“Their main message is passion to policy. If you really enjoy something, get behind it, and make sure it doesn’t go away,” Houghton said.
Civics educators at the high school are also in conversation with Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary to put together a series of climate summits for senior students. “This is something that will run throughout the year, even though the climate change segment is only 10 classes,” Houghton explained.
He added that the climate summits need a great deal of student involvement, and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission is also seeking student input in putting together a climate action plan for the Island.
Noli Taylor, senior director of programming at Island Grown Initiative (IGI), has been working to connect the high school to other sustainability groups on the Island, and students will attend sustainable agriculture tours at the IGI Farm Hub. “IGI is very close to the high school, so we should take advantage of that as much as we can,” Houghton said.
The civics teachers have also contacted the League of Women Voters to get involved in the program, and are hoping to work with the MV NAACP in the civil rights aspect of the course.
Patti Favreau asked if teachers have received specific training to handle conflict resolution in the civics course, and to be able to facilitate productive conversation on issues like the right to choose, or Black Lives Matter.
Principal Sara Dingledy said there has been some reflective training for teachers, and some past years have involved restorative training regarding how to approach difficult conversations and set ground rules.
“I would say that many of the teachers have gone through that in their professional development,” Dingledy said.
Back in session
Students and staff are back in schools, and Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said staff vaccine numbers are reportedly high, based on a survey among staff that received 442 responses.
The school system has a little over 500 staff, and out of the 442 responses so far, 96.8 percent have reported being fully vaccinated
D’Andrea noted President Biden’s workplace vaccine mandate, but said that mandate does not apply to school systems at this time.
Across the Island, according to D’Andrea, 70 percent of all year-round residents are vaccinated, and the vaccine is slated to be approved for younger children at the end of September.
The high school is working with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to try and get an accurate read on the number of students on-Island who are vaccinated, but D’Andrea said that has proven difficult, as many young seasonal residents who are not part of the school system received vaccines over the summer. “I would say we are hovering around 70 percent of those kids who are eligible have been vaccinated, although that is just an estimate,” D’Andrea said.
Island schools are also working on getting their testing system in place, including their rapid testing and their surveillance pool testing programs.
“We have finally received our first shipment of the Binaxnow COVID tests for the state testing program, and also some of our supplies for our surveillance testing program,” D’Andrea said.
The testing program requires that people sign consent forms, and currently there are more than 600 staff and students who have consented to the testing program.
D’Andrea said his office will issue a report every Thursday outlining the number of students and staff who test positive, and he will also continue to host community forums on Tuesdays at 5 pm.
Although there is not currently a requirement for all students and staff to consent to testing, D’Andrea is requiring all students who wish to participate in sports to be tested.