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Room for Debate

Mr. Paccone has opened his classroom so that students and staff can debate current issues.

Crystal Wu

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In order to create a vital forum for debate outside of the typical classroom setting, Honors U.S. History instructor Mr. Peter Paccone hosted the first of five monthly luncheons October 25 in room 404 where attendees discussed  contemporary issues.

The kickoff luncheon focused primarily on the recent news surrounding the territory of Puerto Rico, its political status within the U.S., and the catastrophic damage leveled on it by Hurricane Maria.

More than 30 students and teachers packed Mr. Paccone’s room and enjoyed a spread of hot chilli, cold cuts, cheeses, crackers, drinks and baked goods.

“I want to create a setting where we can have friendly discussions,” Paccone said.

A unique opportunity for adults and students to come together and discuss the issues of the day, Mr. Paccone’s event utilized a newly-designed educational concept that is unfamiliar to the students and teachers. The event opened up with an online poll in which participants texted their answers. It was followed by student presentations, following with a discussion moderated by sophomore Ellie Kanda.

As the moderator, Kanda was responsible for leading off and directing the discussion.

Juniors, Ethan Wu and Mansi Gokani, gave two-minute PowerPoint presentations highlighting the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, and what, if any, assistance the U.S. should provide.

Wu pointed out that a month after category 5 Hurricane Maria – nearly three times worse than Hurricane  Katrina – walloped Puerto Rico, 80 to 90 percent of the island’s infrastructure is still inoperable.  

Mansi continued the discussion with another three-minute presentation about President Donald Trump’s response and the recent war of words between him and the mayor of Puerto Rico.

“This first discussion started off well in my opinion,” Wu said. “Usually, in a normal classroom environment teachers never really express their beliefs, especially politically-related topics, so it was very interesting to hear them express their thoughts and knowledge, which followed Mr. Paccone’s whole purpose of trying to connect the teachers and students by having a discussion on modern events.”

During the discussion, which became spirited at times, participants questioned whether the U.S. should admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory.

“As an American of Puerto Rican descent, [Puerto Ricans] do not want to leave Puerto Rico,” junior Alyssa Escamilla said during the debate. “If we try and incorporate them into statehood, it would take away a lot of their identity and culture.”

Students who did not have space to sit, sat on counters, while others crammed in the doorway to room 404. The vigorous discussion was ended by the bell signaling the end of lunch, cutting off English teacher Frank Dooley as he questioned the forum about sending more disaster assistance to Puerto Rico.

“How many more people are we going to send?” he said shortly before the participants dispersed to their 5th periods.

In the days following the luncheon, several staff members showed their appreciation for Mr. Paccone’s efforts, and willingness to create a space for vigorous debate.

U.S. History Teacher, Mr. Steve Ford, came into Mr. Paccone’s classroom during zero period the following day to congratulate the students on their efforts towards a successful discussion session.

Animation and Media Arts teacher Robbin Rae McCulloch produced her own one-minute YouTube video expressing appreciation for hosting the Puerto Rico discussion at lunch.

The next luncheon is scheduled for November 29, and the topic of discussion will be the removal of Confederate-era statues from public spaces.


* Revised  on 11/21, 8:30 a.m., to read: The vigorous discussion was cut short by the bell signaling the end of lunch, cutting off English teacher Frank Dooley as he questioned the forum about sending more disaster assistance to Puerto Rico.

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Room for Debate