Moses Brown School and Hope High School co-hosted a conversation about education on October 8, with all three candidates for Providence’s mayoral seat. The event attracted a large crowd to the Waughtel-Howe Field House. Moses Brown is appreciative of the time shared by candidates Vincent Cianci (Independent), Jorge Elorza (Democrat) and Daniel Harrop (Republican).
The two-hour student-facilitated discussion differed from the traditional debate format. Students solicited and selected questions from their peers and the community, with guidance from their Government, Politics and Civics teachers. Students then posed questions to the candidates, who had the opportunity to speak about their values and policy goals. The goal for this was to generate civil dialogue; candidates could reply thoughtfully but observed time limits and were asked to refrain from personal attacks.
“Our city and state face challenges that will require long-term solutions,” said Matt Glendinning, Head of Moses Brown School, prior to the event. “The people who will guide those efforts are today’s elementary and secondary students. The education they receive today will prepare them to lead Rhode Island. How will our political candidates prepare our children for this role? How can we educate the next generation of Rhode Islanders to be a force for positive change in our communities?”
The neighboring schools – one public, one independent – sponsor a popular annual student exchange program. This was their first civic partnership. “This is a rare opportunity for our students to engage firsthand in the political process,” said Beth Lantz, who teaches Civics in Action at Moses Brown. “It’s exhilarating for them to bring our curriculum to life.”
Senior Cameron C. (shown below) felt the candidates did a nice job in answering the questions brought forth from students: “They made sure to keep their responses as specific to the question as possible,” he said, “while allowing the people in attendance to hear more of each candidate’s platform. The fact that this event was happening at a school and that the questions came from students definitely influenced their attitudes – in most cases for the better – as they were more respectful of each other than they have appeared in the past.”
Cam noted that all of the candidates felt strongly about the topic of finance. He commented, “The golden question of sorts is always, how do you plan to pay for all of the changes you hope to make? This caused very different responses from each of the candidates that added some friction. Our questions mostly generated similar responses or slight variations; however, this one provoked the true feeling of a debate.”
Cam says he found the forum to be helpful: “I think the fact that we can have a forum in which platforms or opinions on a specific topic are explained by each of the candidates running for office speaks to the democratic process and our country’s success as a republic,” he said. “I also think that many people in our nation don’t take it upon themselves to become informed thoroughly on the person or party they vote for and in this the benefits of democracy can be lost in dilution of media and hype. I think that education is an issue that the city of Providence needs to address and needs to address with force. Containing some of the lowest-ranking schools in the state, the city needs to continue the conversation we began at the forum.”
His classmate Josabet Z. ’15 (photo above) thought that the candidates gave more of a response on the night’s earlier questions. “We gave them a chance to really get personal about their education,” Josy said, “and talk about their experiences and how what they went through will correlate with what they plan to do in Providence. They had ideas that they wanted to share and you could really tell that they wanted to make a change and the questions that kind of made them think about their own experiences really gave a more sincere answer. Usually, I have very little interest in what candidates have to say because they usually don’t keep the promises they make. Watching them answer these questions and share their vision for Providence really allowed me to think how much pressure these candidates are under. Although I don’t agree with everything they have to say, I better understand the struggle of these politicians and that deep down they want to get Providence back on track.”
All three candidates shared about their own school experiences. Mr. Elorza graduated from Providence’s Classical High School; Mr. Cianci is an alumnus of Moses Brown; and Mr. Harrop is a graduate of Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick.
Moses Brown School was founded in 1784 and enrolls 775 boys and girls in grades nursery through 12. Hope High School was founded in 1898 and serves 1,449 students in grades 9-12.
MB alumna and Providence Journalist reporter Alisha Pina Thounsavath ’96 moderated the event.