Bishop honors local students for community service

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Congressman Tim Bishop recently recognized students at two local high schools for their work initiating community programs in their schools.

On Tuesday, December 16, the congressman acknowledged students from Sag Harbor’s Pierson High School and Westhampton Beach High School along with students from six other Long Island schools for participating in his Civic Engagement Project. Led by a faculty coordinator, the students filed applications detailing their community projects, which will continue until the end of the school year, according to Virginia Rowley, a representative for Rep. Bishop and his project coordinator. Ms. Rowley said some students have already begun working on their projects and all of them will be honored personally by the congressman with a certificate of accomplishment in a ceremony in April or May.

“This is the fourth year,” Ms. Rowley said, noting the Civic Engagement Project has increased student participation and “it’s been getting bigger and better each year.”

Although very few seniors at Pierson are old enough to vote, social studies teacher Dr. John Baer said students in his 12th-grade government class are creating a voter education and registration drive. Almost all of Pierson’s 60 seniors will be of voting age in 2009 and he said they hope to encourage all eligible classmates to register with the Suffolk County Board of Elections by the time they graduate. “You can register in the year you turn 18,” Dr. Baer said.

The teacher said the senior class has invited the League of Women Voters to present their “Vote 18” program in February. The program includes skits in which students will act out scenes from America’s electoral history and it concludes with an opportunity for seniors to register on the spot. Additionally, Dr. Baer’s government class is working on a brochure on voting to be distributed in banks, professional offices and retail establishments throughout the community this spring.

Beyond simply detailing instructions for registering to vote, the brochure will include an explanation of the importance of voting as “the linchpin of a well-functioning democracy,” a history of the expansion of voting rights in the United States, a theory explaining the decline in voter participation over the last century, why it’s important to increase participation and a presentation of registration requirements in New York State.

“This year’s [senior] class is proving to be an especially strong one and the level of political awareness seems unusually high,” Dr. Baer noted in the application. This week, he added that his students closely followed the presidential election from start to finish. “They probably know more [about elections] than your average college student,” he said.

One student in Dr. Baer’s government class, Veronica O’Malley, acknowledged the importance of getting students registered before graduation.

“If they don’t [register], they probably won’t in the future,” Veronica said. “Apathy is getting more and more popular.”

With help from faculty coordinator and English teacher Jane Flinter, the student government at Westhampton Beach High School joined Rep. Bishop’s project by sponsoring three student-run initiatives to support Adopt a Family, the Special Olympics and Participate ’08, which involved creating a mock ballot and a vote on other important issues on November 3 to raise awareness of the 2008 presidential election and voting in the school.

The Special Olympics will be held at WBHS for the second consecutive year in March and the students are organizing a 5K run to raise money for the event this winter. Last year, according to the application submitted by Avery Raimondo of the Student Government Executive Board, the school hosted a basketball tournament and other activities for the special needs athletes and they created an “Olympic Village” with volunteers in the cafeteria.

Students Mia and Madison Mulvey, Alexa Keegan and Stephanie Masicano led an initiative to purchase gifts for needy families through Adopt a Family, using funds collected by student government. The money was obtained through student donations, which were collected in boxes left in first period classrooms, the cafeteria and the main office at the school.

“I am proud of our students for making a commitment to their communities and I encourage their efforts to enrich the lives of the people of the First Congressional District,” Rep. Bishop said in a statement last week. The congressman started his civic engagement program in an effort to encourage students to take leadership in their communities and serve the needs of locals, and to encourage participation in government, he explained.

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