This year, New Paltz High School (NPHS) students enrolled in an innovative class called Participation in Government, Literature and Economics for Today’s Students (known as PIGLETS) responded to pandemic-related concerns about health and wellness with thoughtful projects designed to offer students and community members tools, resources, information, levity and fellowship.
The two-credit course for high school seniors blends existing curriculum from various classes, including Participation in Government, Economics, Writing Workshop, Public Speaking, Media and Novel/Fiction. It is led by teachers Bonne Masseo and Joe Dolan.
Masseo expressed pride in the PIGLETS projects. “Students created, planned and implemented service-learning projects to address needs in our community,” she said. “The students focused their efforts on issues that were personal or newly discovered through our investigation process, adding an important layer of meaning to their work. The end result is a true feeling of accomplishment and a more connected community.”
PIGLETS participants Nyah Cunniff, Emily Lawrence, Ava Grae Cronin, and Flora Pierson said that their project choice arose from student accounts of sexual assault shared over the last few years. The teens’ project aimed to facilitate women’s reproductive health and body autonomy. To that end, the students created an “informational hot spot” in the form of a freestanding booth on Main Street in New Paltz. The booth offered free condoms and QR codes for information and resources on sexual assault, at-home cervical cancer screenings, sexually transmitted diseases and more. Increasingly inspired, the team then organized a Health Awareness Day at the high School with presentations by local service organizations. They also sold T-shirts lettered with “Consent” and arranged a public demonstration in front of the Elting Memorial Library to protest the recent tide of changes to reproductive laws happening across the country.
Another team consisting of Olivia Baum, Claire Holt and Ryan Kraus focused on creating access to free art supplies. Believing that creative expression is important but not always affordable, the art-oriented students created “Free Art Libraries” full of donated products for anyone to use. The supplies are available on a give-and-take basis at the Elting Memorial Library, New Paltz Youth Program, the New Paltz High School Library and the Family of New Paltz.
Many of the PIGLETS saw post-pandemic mental health as an immediate concern and chose various ways to address it. Christine Vigliotti, Anna Adams, Kelly Hansen and Natalee Watts wanted to reduce the feelings of isolation and loneliness experienced by senior citizens. The self-dubbed “Golden Girls” regularly visited with the residents of Mountain Valley Manor in Kingston to do arts, crafts, games and music, even holding a “Seniors for Seniors Prom” dance. Hansen said her takeaway from the project was that “kindness matters.”
Two other PIGLETS, Kendall Lucchesi and Max Miller, said they wanted to foster solidarity among younger students experiencing difficulties with mental wellness. “When Max and I were in middle school, we both experienced our own struggles with mental health,” said Kendall. “It was not until an older peer of ours shared her story and demonstrated her vulnerability that we felt understood.” The duo put their insight and compassion to work with children in a nature-based, not-for-profit afterschool program, as well as at J. Watson Bailey Middle School in Kingston. Lucchesi said the students were so receptive to her openness about struggling with an eating disorder that she was approached later by a girl admitting that she had barely eaten in weeks. “I learned that just being vulnerable with the kids and letting them lead were the best ways to teach,” Lucchesi said.
Bruce Oremus, Ryan McCrory and Brady Saunders engaged in imaginative games during recesses at Lenape Elementary School to offer the students a constructive, social and physical outlet for blowing off steam built up from the school shifts related to COVID-19. Alex Frenza, Solo Diedhiou, Thomas Pishkur, and Sarah Perl sought to reduce the pandemic’s negative impacts on Duzine Elementary School’s Grade 2 students. The PIGLETS visited the elementary students, played games, and devised anxiety-reducing activities.