The New Paltz PIGLETS take to the streets, playgrounds and nursing homes

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Back row left to right: Alex Frenza, Max Miller, Brady Saunders, Sarah Perl, Solo Diedhiou, Anna Adams, Christine Vigliotti, Flora Pierson, Emily Lawrence, Kendall Lucchesi, Nyah Cunniff, Olivia Baum, Ryan Kraus and Bonne Masseo. Front row, left to right: Thomas Pishkur, Bruce Oremus, Ava Cronin, Ryan McCrory, Natalee Watts, Kelly Hansen, Claire Holt and Joe Dolan.

This year, New Paltz High School (NPHS) students enrolled in an innovative class called Participating in Government, Literature, and Economics for Today’s Students (known as PIGLETS) responded pandemic-related concerns about health and well-being with thoughtful projects designed to provide students with tools, resources, information, levity, and camaraderie from community members.

The two-credit course for high school seniors combines existing curriculum from various classes, including participation in government, economics, writing workshop, public speaking, media, and novel/fiction . It is led by professors Bonne Masseo and Joe Dolan.

Masseo has expressed its pride in the PIGLETS projects. “Students created, planned and implemented service-learning projects to meet the needs of our community,” she said. “Students focused their efforts on personal or newly discovered issues through our inquiry process, adding an important layer of meaning to their work. The end result is a true sense of accomplishment and a more connected community.

PIGLETS participants Nyah Cunniff, Emily Lawrence, Ava Grae Cronin and Flora Pierson said their choice of project stemmed from stories of sexual assault shared by college students over the past few years. The teen project aimed to facilitate women’s reproductive health and bodily autonomy. To that end, the students created an “information access point” in the form of a stand-alone booth on Main Street in New Paltz. The booth offered free condoms and QR codes for information and resources on sexual assault, home screenings for cervical cancer, sexually transmitted diseases and more. Growing inspired, the team then organized a high school health awareness day with presentations from local service organizations. They also sold ‘Consent’ T-shirts and staged a public demonstration outside the Elting Memorial Library to protest the recent wave of changes to reproductive laws across the country.

Another team consisting of Olivia Baum, Claire Holt and Ryan Kraus focused on creating access to free art supplies. Convinced that creative expression is important but not always affordable, art-oriented students have created “free art libraries” full of donated products for everyone to use. Supplies are available on a give-and-take basis to the Elting Memorial Library, New Paltz Youth Program, New Paltz High School Library, and New Paltz Family.

Many PIGLETS viewed 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 feeling of isolation and loneliness experienced by seniors. The self-proclaimed “Golden Girls” regularly visited the residents of Mountain Valley Manor in Kingston to do arts, crafts, games and music, even hosting a “Seniors for Seniors Prom” dance. Hansen said what she took away from the project was that “kindness matters”.

Two other PIGLETS, Kendall Lucchesi and Max Miller, said they wanted to foster solidarity among young students experiencing mental well-being difficulties. “When Max and I were in middle school, we both went through our own mental health issues,” Kendall said. “It wasn’t until one of our older peers shared her story and demonstrated her vulnerability that we felt understood.” The duo put their insight and compassion to work for children at a nature-based, non-profit after-school program, as well as at J. Watson Bailey Middle School in Kingston. Lucchesi said the students were so receptive to her opening up about battling an eating disorder that she was later approached by a girl admitting she had barely eaten in weeks. “I learned that just being vulnerable with kids and letting them lead was the best way to teach,” Lucchesi said.

Bruce Oremus, Ryan McCrory and Brady Saunders engaged in imaginative play during recess at Lenape Elementary School to provide students with a constructive, social and physical outlet to let off steam from school changes related to COVID-19. Alex Frenza, Solo Diedhiou, Thomas Pishkur and Sarah Perl sought to reduce the negative impacts of the pandemic on 2nd grade students at Duzine Elementary School. The PIGLETS visited elementary school students, played games and designed anti-anxiety activities.

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