A Crash Course in Civic Engagement for Class V

Headmaster Brennan presents a lesson on the election process.
Boston City Councilor Mark Ciommo and his associate Daniel Polanco, with the Class V students who live in the City of Boston.
Dr. William Sparks
Journalist Gareth Cook on fighting "fake news."
May Madness winners Teddy Glaeser and David Sullivan
May Madness runners up, Colin Herbert and Liam Finn

For four concentrated weeks each spring, Class V students convene every C Block for a rich lesson in what it means to be a responsible, engaged, informed citizen of the United States. This Civics mini-course, conceived of by Headmaster Kerry Brennan, has been a hallmark of the Class V program since 2011. Through it, students learn early in their R.L. tenure how their government works, what their civil rights and responsibilities are, and what service to country and commonwealth can look like.

History Department Chair Stewart Thomsen kicks off the course with an Introduction to Civics—what the term means, and what the boys can expect in the coming weeks. On day two, Mr. Brennan walks the boys through the American election process, digging deeply into the federal branches of government and how the individuals in those seats come to arrive there. He offers the history and current state of the electoral college; the difference between primaries and caucuses; the steps toward running for our nation’s highest office; and the voter turnout percentages during recent presidential elections.

During the perennial favorite “May Madness” competition, the boys face a test of knowledge connected with the naturalization process for U.S. citizenship. This test segues into an introduction to immigration, offered by Mr. Thomsen and faculty member Chris Heaton of the History Department, who plays a key role in organizing the course. A major highlight of the immigration unit is when members of the Roxbury Latin community share their personal immigration stories and their various paths to citizenship. This year French master Ousmane Diop; Eli Roumally of R.L.’s Buildings and Grounds team; and Elias Simeonov of Class II generously told the boys their varied and personal tales of how they arrived in the United States and what made them stay.

A keystone of the Civics course is a series of guest speakers who represent different avenues of public service. This spring, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gareth Cook (father of Aidan Cook, Class III) walked the boys through exercises designed to help them identify “fake news,”; former R.L. parent and Boston City Councilor Mark Ciommo, with his associate Daniel Polanco, spoke with boys about their different roles and paths to serving with the City Council; and finally Dr. William Sparks (father of Andrew Sparks, Class V) discussed the critical role of the military staff corps—the lawyers, engineers, supply specialists, nurses, doctors—who ensure that other active duty service members and their families have the resources they need to do their jobs. Dr. Sparks served as a pediatric anesthesiologist for the Naval Medical Corps.

While boys enter the month-long course with various levels of interest and awareness about these topics, they all enhance their knowledge and walk away with a well-rounded understanding.