Our Young Social Scientists

Rye Neck High School students are meeting community issues head on.

Published June 10, 2014 3:31 PM
3 min read


SCHOOLS-RYE-NECK thRye Neck High School students are meeting community issues head on.

By Janice Llanes Fabry

SCHOOLS-RYE-NECKRye Neck High School students are meeting community issues head on. Through the district’s Independent Learner Program’s Tools For Change and Action Research programs, they are tackling local problems through social research and painstaking analysis. And they’ve generated enough compelling data to promote change.  

“The students come to understand that social science research is about leaning in and being engaged,” remarked Enrichment Coordinator Valerie Feit. “Young people care about global issues such as healthcare and hunger, which are also community issues.”

 Students taking the college-level Tools For Change seminar, taught by Dr. Feit and Dr. William Tobin, whose honors program at Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute it is modeled on, worked on a Hunger Project.
Senior Annabel Gutterman, juniors Rachel Novick and Sam Lawhon, sophomore Artur Jacques, and freshman Hunter Greenhill were astonished to discover that many families in the Town of Rye can’t afford three square meals a day. “The statistics are quite alarming considering we live in an affluent area,” noted Greenhill.

“It was a wake-up call for us,” added Gutterman. “When presenting our data, we wanted to show that it was a wake-up call for everyone else as well.”

The team conducted a focus group and examined how the various local food banks and donors collaborate. Finding lapses in communication, they addressed the issues and made recommendations at a Rye Town Commission meeting on May 20. Feit was pleased by how well the students’ recommendations were received by civic leaders, as well as the hunger relief organizations.  

 These students, along with freshmen Fraser Shaw and Matt Lawhon, were also involved in the Action Research program’s study on an elder care facility. Personal Touch Home Care, which is moving from New Jersey to Westchester, entrusted the students with devising and executing a market study.

After conducting two focus groups, one for elders and one for adult children, the students concluded that each group had very different criteria upon which they evaluate senior care service providers. Both groups, however, cited trust as their overriding concern. As a result of the students’ research, Personal Touch proceeded to implement significant improvements to the facility’s website.

Also enrolled in the Independent Learner elective, sophomores Olivia Thurman and Almila Arda are working on individual projects that explore their heritage. Thurman, who is of Puerto Rican descent and lived in Puerto Rico for a year, is focusing on the cultural identity struggles faced by Latinas in this country.

“We’re pulled in two directions, cultural traditions versus American society. It’s hard to balance the demands of each,” observed Thurman, who will continue to work with the Hispanic Resource Center through next year.

Arda has been investigating her Turkish roots through four generations of women on her mother’s side. She is particularly interested in gender roles and in the repression of women in Turkish society.  

“There are a lot of countries that you wouldn’t expect deny women’s rights and I want to bring light to the situation,” said Arda, who is currently writing her family history from a woman’s perspective. 


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