Rumson-Fair Haven HS Club President Wins $4000 ACLU Youth Activist Award

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey is proud to announce that Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School senior Annie Preziosi has won a $4000 ACLU Youth Activist Scholarship. Annie is one of twelve students nationwide recognized by the ACLU for her youth activism.

The ACLU Scholarship for Youth Activists was established by an anonymous donor in 2000. Winners are selected based on their outstanding contributions to the struggle for civil liberties through activities such as playing a leadership role in establishing a student civil liberties club or group, grassroots organizing around a particular ACLU issue, or serving as a plaintiff in an ACLU lawsuit.

As a high school junior, Annie noticed that students spent a lot of time debating social issues in her United States History class. They talked about whether McKinley was a good president, whether the US should have been involved with the Korean and Vietnam wars, and about what individuals' rights should be when it comes to issues like abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, and more. Annie noted her own passion on such topics, as well as that of her classmates, and decided to study a constitutional issue for her Academic Passport Project, an independent research program in which students examine a topic, write a paper and present their work. Annie choose the write about the Establishment Clause and researched two cases from the previous Supreme Court term: Mitchell v. Helms, which concerned government subsidies for parochial schools and Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, which concerned student-led prayer before football games.

It was Annie's experience in US History that fueled her interest in the ACLU and our defense of civil liberties, “Although my research satisfied my interest in students' rights for a while, it inflamed my desire to learn more and do more about the other issues we'd discussed in class. Furthermore I was still concerned with how the intense opinions of my classmates could be converted into action” Annie said.

So, she hit the web and found out about how to form an ACLU student club through our website. Her US History teacher, an attorney who also teaches law classes at Rumson-Fair Haven, Michele Brennan, agreed to act as an advisor for Annie's ACLU club. They promptly got school board authorization and attracted 30 students to the first meeting.

Annie also managed to generate very positive coverage in the local press about the formation of the club. She was quoted in an articles about it in the Two River Times and the Red Bank Reporter, “The club would, through advocacy and lobbying, attempt to protect and defend anyone whose natural rights were violated,” she promised.

On December 15, 2000 the Rumson-Fair Haven HS ACLU Club sponsored its first event, an assembly for seniors in honor of Bill of Rights Day. The assembly featured a debate about student government, a skit about police pulling some teenagers over in their car (using real, live police officers), and performance of a song called “The Constitution Song” that runs down the amendments in the Bill of Rights to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Annie and her club members' efforts to put this program together paid off, as the assembly was thought-provoking and well received. However, it did not come without some frustration. Annie had initially requested that the assembly feature former ACLU plaintiffs Jon & Michael Galluccio, a gay couple who won the right to jointly adopt children, or current plaintiffs in our challenge to Hunterdon Central High School's drug testing policy. Not surprisingly, the school principal rejected both those proposals and Annie had her first lesson in how to negotiate with government officials in situations when you don't have clear rights.

As President of the Rumson-Fair Haven HS ACLU Club, Annie (with help from her mom, Jane) hosted a Mother-Daughter Tea Party in honor of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Mother-daughter pairs spent a Saturday afternoon talking about issues concerning reproductive freedom. It created a great opportunity for sharing about some of the most personal and difficult civil liberties issues between women of different ages, backgrounds and experience. Annie is also planning to testify on behalf of the ACLU in hearings about the proposed state constitutional amendment to require parental notification by minors seeking abortion.

With graduation near, Annie is eagerly awaiting decisions from colleges. She has already been accepted to NYU and the University of Michigan and will soon hear from Brown, Stanford, Yale and Columbia. Whichever she chooses, we have high hopes for Annie's future as a civil libertarian, “I hope that when I leave my high school, the ACLU club will remain active and in the hands of another passionate student. In college I know I'll maintain my involvement with the ACLU and my commitment to activism. I plan to join the ACLU club at whichever school I attend.” If the school Annie chooses doesn't have an ACLU club, she will just have to start another one.

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