Students explore complex issues together


Oceanside and Uniondale students put their thinking caps on last month to talk about the important issues of our time as part of the Bridges program.

It’s the start of a new cycle for the program, which began in 2016 when seventh graders from each district began a six-year odyssey to learn about and discuss topics such as socioeconomics, politics, race, immigration, protest movements, and more. This year, that journey began once again for a new group of seventh graders. In addition, Oceanside and Uniondale 9th and 11th graders resumed their participation in Bridges after being interrupted by the pandemic.

The seventh graders gathered at the Lawrence Road Middle School on Jan. 13 to discuss immigration, looking at factors that compel people to emigrate as well as its various impacts on the United States.

Cuthbert Young, a seventh grader who attends Lawrence Road Middle School said it taught, “cooperation and how to respectfully communicate when we disagree or have a different perspective on how to do things. Conversations were deep; people had completely different mindsets and perspectives. If someone either agreed or disagreed with something said, they responded respectfully with logical reasoning behind it.”

Oceanside Middle School English teacher Joseph La Torre, one of the program’s founding educators, was excited to continue bringing students from the two school districts together.

“Bridges teaches students a skill that they will not learn in a typical classroom: how to connect with people who are not from your community,” La Torre stated, “It’s a soft skill that many people do not learn on their own, and this program accelerates the learning curve so they can be successful when leadership opportunities arise.”

The 9th and 11th grade students met Jan. 20 at Uniondale High School, where the Uniondale students led a tour of their school and were excited to show off their school. The students watched “38 At the Garden,” which follows the cultural impact of NBA trailblazer Jeremy Lin during his 2012 season with the New York Knicks – a pertinent choice considering the anti-Asian sentiment that has arisen over the past several years -- and discussed the topic of identity and what makes us who we are.

Maxwell Greenberg of Oceanside High School found the event helpful “because it allowed us to have discussions about our identities.”

“The topic can be uncomfortable to talk about, but the way we were introduced to it helped make it easier to discuss,” he added.

Uniondale High School history teacher Jillian Pallone said she enjoyed seeing, “the students engage in deep discussions and explore their identities through many relevant questions.”

Mitchell Bickman, Oceanside’s director of social studies, said he believes engaging students in evaluating contemporary issues will lead to their becoming well-rounded, active, and engaged citizens.

“In Bridges, we encourage difficult conversations and ask challenging questions, and we welcome different points of view with the understanding that we can agree to disagree with civility,” Bickman said. “We tell students to get beyond your comfort zone, to get to know people different from yourselves. It’s in that space beyond comfort that true education occurs.”