Students Set A Symposium On Education Washington Twp. High Schoolers Will Give Input To Legislators, Journalists And Local Leaders.

Posted: May 11, 1997

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — Parents have strong opinions about how and what their children are taught in public schools. That much is known.

Politicians and educators, whose voices are heard frequently in the newspapers, on television, or at school board meetings, also muse publicly about the state of education in this country.

But what do students think?

Some believe they have been ignored for too long.

``There's definitely a lack of communication between students and political leaders about the state of education,'' said Andrew Campanella, 16, a Washington Township High School junior and spokesman for the Student Coalition for Progressive Dialogue, which is organizing a symposium on educational issues for next month.

Formed four months ago by high schoolers, the group, which goes by the acronym SCOPE, aims to bring the student perspective to the debate about how to improve schools in New Jersey and across the country, Campanella said. The symposium, scheduled for June 12 at the Renaissance Room on Fries Mill Road, will be the organization's first event.

Putting together the conference has been a monumental task. SCOPE so far has lined up several state legislators and regional journalists to join in a panel discussion on public education. Five students at the high school will quiz the panelists on topics ranging from the revised state school-funding laws to the future of charter schools.

Among those scheduled to participate are Fourth District Assemblymen Sean Dalton and George Geist, State Sen. John Matheussen, Washington Township Mayor Gerald Luongo, Jane Eisner and Chris Satullo of The Inquirer editorial board, and Gloucester County Times editor Bill Long.

Campanella said the group had yet to receive firm commitments from Democratic gubernatorial candidates Rob Andrews and Jack McGreevey, former Gov. Jim Florio, or U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Torricelli. Luongo will give the keynote address.

The symposium will be closed to the general public.

While scheduling the event has been fairly painless, Campanella said, finding the money to pay for it has been challenging. He estimated that it would cost $6,200 to put on the event, including rental fees and a dinner. Last week, the township sent out letters to 600 businesses throughout the municipality, asking for financial support of the symposium.

``But it's been frustrating so far,'' Campanella said. ``If we don't get the money, we will have to go to Town Council. But that's a last resort.''

Luongo said he would find the money for SCOPE if the group's members could not. ``We want this to succeed,'' the mayor said.

Campanella said SCOPE, which is not a school-sponsored group, wants the symposium to open a dialogue between students and influential members of the community about how to improve public schools. That already has started, he said.

``A lot of politicians we have talked to seem happy that we're taking a role like this,'' Campanella said.

Luongo sang the organization's praises.

``What they are trying to do is what children everywhere should be doing - working to affect the quality of education in the state of New Jersey,'' the mayor said.

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