This Year’s Politicon Draws Plenty of Pros

Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr continues its tradition of promoting political participation from its students with the eighth quadrennial school-wide conference Politicon.

It has been a long-held tradition at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr to mark the presidential primary season with an opportunity for its students to learn about law, government, politics and media.
The tradition, which began in 1984, when the school was known as Akiba Hebrew Academy, continues Jan. 20, when Barrack holds its eighth quadrennial school-wide conference, Politicon, in addition to its mock primary election. The goal of the program is to promote political participation and active citizenship throughout the school.
“To be honest, kids who wanted to do this are political animals,” said Barrack history teacher and event coordinator, Minna Ziskind.
The morning will begin with two workshops for the students.  Faculty will also have the opportunity to attend workshops conducted by elected officials and community members.
Guest speakers include: Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePa.; Josh Shapiro, Montgomery county commissioner; Risa Ferman, Montgomery County common pleas court judge; U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Delaware); and Terry Madonna, political science professor. Among the topics to be addressed: gun control, the death penalty, political polling, civil rights, immigration and more.
“There is a core group of students who are interested in politics and events,” Ziskind said.
One of them is senior Avi Lipton, who teamed with classmates Jacob Gordon, Julian Hirsch and Alexandria Gutierrez on the committee that helped plan the program.
Lipton, a member of the political club at Barrack for the past three years, told the Jewish Exponent his passion for government began when he fell in love with the show, The West Wing, a few years ago.
“The goal of the event is to inspire people and educate them on the issues,” Lipton explained.
While he enjoys politics, he feels many students are disengaged when it comes to government. He believes it is crucial for teens to be knowledgeable about current events and the presidential race because of the impact it will have on their future.
“You need to care about these issues and talk about these issues,” Lipton said. “I get very frustrated because I want to hear a real policy discussion, but unfortunately, the debates don’t do that.”
Meehan hopes to alleviate Lipton’s concerns, using this opportunity to pick their brains about what they consider the biggest problems in the country.
“I’m honored to be asked to speak with the students,” Meehan said. “Challenging them to engage in the process in the first place is a great step forward. They talk about wanting to contribute and that’s inspiring.”
Meehan believes kids today are bombarded with social media and often have lofty expectations. They need to have the knowledge to make smart decisions.
“This generation benefits from a remarkable amount of information,” he said.
Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, agreed with Meehan that millennials’ voices matter. He will discuss the history of presidential elections in Pennsylvania and talk about its status as a swing state.
While the students at Barrack are showing initiative by holding this event, according to Madonna, most people between the ages of 18 to 29 are typically are not interested in politics.
“It’s hard for politicians to speak to young voters,” he noted.
Madonna added there is no clear presidential favorite at this point, but feels issues like the economy and college loans will spark an interest at Barrack and with young adults throughout the country.
“This is an election in some ways about where we go as a country,” Madonna said. “We are deeply divided and deeply polarized, more so than any time in modern history.
“Given the world affairs that we’re going through right now, this could end up being an election about big change.”
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