By Adam Khan and Juliana Scannelli ('23)
Political Literacy and Civic Education, also known as PLACE, is one of the exclusive social studies electives taught here at SBHS. The course includes free-flowing, student-driven topics ranging from current events, debates, discussions, and more. The class, directed by Dr. Justin Negraval, is designed to address controversial, divisive topics in an open and safe forum so that students can develop their ideologies and form their own opinions on modern-day issues.
Dr. Negraval said, “PLACE is a dedicated civic class for high school students to discuss the most important and pressing issues of the day. It’s designed to foster conversation and understanding, as well as to bring awareness to the federal government and what’s going on locally. Not many other courses are like this besides U.S Government that everyone takes as freshmen.”
PLACE gives an in-depth analysis of New Jersey laws and issues, both Local and National Government, specific Court Cases, and Civic Responsibilities.
Compared to other classes Political Literacy and Civic Education has a fairly light homework agenda. For each quarter, students are required to write a political experience essay in which students can watch documentaries, describe political songs, go to board meetings, listen to court cases, or to State of the State addresses. Another requirement needed is that students for each quarter create a current events slideshow presentation relating to something in America.
Among the highlights of the course is the break-away from the rigid structure of traditional social studies electives. One of the themes gathered from interviews is that this class is a judgment-free space. It is one of the opportunities to take to openly have political discourse, and prepare students for real-world politics.
Dr. Negraval said, “The class is important because it helps you learn more about yourself, your views, and ways to challenge your views. Having a dialogue with people who don’t necessarily agree with you and learning how to cope with that is important, instead of immediately flying off the handle. We’re trying to make a space where people can have open conversations in a meaningful way with people that don't necessarily agree with them. The class is an opportunity to become better informed before you hit reality.”
PLACE embraces the stigma behind talking about politics. The class encourages respect for every student, regardless of their opinions. The class is notably well received by students, not only for the laid-back environment but the interesting discussion that unfolds.
Senior Jason Thimba said, “There aren’t a lot of places that you can get that kind of environment from. We’ve all had that class where you’re afraid to ask questions but in this class, I never feel scared to ask questions. It’s not like social media where if you ask a question, people say you are ignorant or need to do more research, in PLACE, everyone chimes in and helps explain the topic that your question pertains to. Even if you aren’t into politics, like me, this class helps you become more educated in certain issues.”
One of the essentials in maintaining a productive political class is by having that level of comfortability and trust among students. The environment Dr. Negraval has created allows for that, and even students without a liking for politics may find themselves noticing interest in the class.
PLACE is a great opportunity for students to discover their own political ideology. The class also enhances and promotes students' listening and discussion skills. America is deeply divided, and for some, it is hard to talk about politics without engaging in an argument. PLACE is a safe space for students to engage in politics and conversation. Dr. Negraval prides himself on the ability to make students comfortable in his class. Talking about politics does not have to be dreadful. He invites students to come and take PLACE and see how much fun it can actually be!