Freshman writing project turns into a civics lesson

Southington High School freshmen were challenged to share their research with newspapers, politicians, and local officials after an English assignment. Three chose to share their opinions with The Southington Observer. From left, Taylor Cox, Mark Colaccino, and Nathan Chamberland.



Students in Kerri Fenton’s ninth grade English class took a creative approach to their persuasive writing assignment by writing to individuals and organizations locally and nationwide.

After learning the fundamentals of argumentative writing, the Southington High School class got to work covering topics from school uniforms to animal testing, to technology in classrooms and more. Then, Fenton hit them with a challenge: share their research and make a difference.

Every member of the class wrote their own piece. Three—Taylor Cox, Mark Colaccino, and Nathan Chamberland—sent their essays to The Southington Observer as letters to the editor. While some students chose topics geared toward specific organizations, Cox, Colaccino and Chamberland wanted to share their ideas with the entire community.

“It’s easier to get your voice heard locally,” Cox said. A lover of animals, she voiced her thoughts against animal testing.

The students were pleasantly surprised to receive feedback for their outreach. Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protect (DEEP) returned a letter to Jillian Zitofsky, who researched climate change, and advised her to pursue a career in environmental science.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy also received mail from Fenton’s class.

“It’s a great class project, and I’m always telling kids that their voice matters to me just as much as their parents’ voices do,” said Murphy, who got his start in politics in 1997 when he was elected to the Southington Planning and Zoning Commission. “I was inspired to get involved in politics during high school, so it’s never too early for students to raise their voices.”

Even Southington officials got on board with the student outreach. Many ninth graders were passionate about school-related issues, contacting central office staff with their letters.

“We received two responses from our Superintendent, Timothy Connellan, saying he would share the students’ arguments at a board of education meeting,” Fenton said. “We also received a note from Greg Ferry, athletic director at SHS, saying he found the information incredibly useful.”

Assistant superintendent of schools Steven Madancy said he received two essays about the benefits of tablets over textbooks from students in Fenton’s class.

“Student voice and opinions matter to me a great deal,” Madancy said. “I sent Miss Fenton an e-mail asking her if I can attend one of their classes and debate these two students on the claims within their essays.”

The project not only taught students how to gather and convey information persuasively, but it also showed them that their voices are heard. After reading a Sophocles play, the students “looked how characters in classic writing persuaded one another before the Common Era and applied it to controversial issues they are passionate about today in the 21st century,” Fenton said.

Click here to read the letter from Cox:  Letter – Taylor Cox

Click here to read the letter from Colaccino:  Letter – Mark Colaccino

Click here to read the letter from Chamberland:  Letter – Nathan Chamberland

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