CGI President-Elect Commends Program’s Ideals

Sam Safirstein, Guest Writer

Founded in 1997, the Civics and Government Institute is Montclair High School’s most politically active small learning community and organization.

CGI provides a unique learning environment, giving students the chance to work towards improving their community through a student-run government. CGI follows a thematic curriculum, in which English and History classes are coordinated. 

My grade, the class of 2024, was the first Sophomore class to join following the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a difficult time to be in school, and no one was sure how to navigate the post-lockdown world. 

Despite that, CGI kept its doors open, and stayed true to its values. Here are a few reasons why CGI is so special, and why I could not be prouder to serve as its President-Elect.

At its core, CGI provides a community of academically motivated kids who learn and grow together. You do not have to be interested in civics or government to thrive in CGI.

The teachers work hard to create an inclusive environment and form personal relationships with their students. “The community is very welcoming,” MHS sophomore Leo Hirsch said. 

A key to this inclusivity is group work. Each student takes part in the student-run government and chooses the committee that is most aligned with their passions. 

The CGI mock government roughly mimics the US government. It provides a medium for students to work closely to create change in their school and learn about national issues. 

“CGI is a rare opportunity for students to have autonomy in the way that their school works. We can make revisions, policies, and work together,” Sophie Langton, my running-mate and the vice president-elect of CGI, said.

For the past two years, I have been a part of the CGI Senate, first representing the Class of 2024 and then my Committee on Arts. We debate a variety of bills ranging from the war in Ukraine to creating another gender neutral restroom. 

Working to pass proposals like these, which have to be approved by all three branches of the CGI government, has given me insight on not only how our nation’s government works, but also how to work with my peers. 

“I love CGI,” Tara Nadkarni, an MHS junior and senator of the committee for special programs, said. “It gives me an opportunity to build strong connections with classmates and further my public speaking skills.” 

Debating, public speaking, and working together gives students the chance to learn from different perspectives than their own. “CGI hits home…so many times I have wanted to talk about the things that are happening around me at a higher level, even in terms of constitutionality. It’s a healthy environment to talk about these things with people who don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with you,” said MHS senior and two-term senator Gael Barker. 

In 2012, sophomores in CGI created a petition to help appoint a female moderator for the Presidential Debates. The petition caught the attention of the Commission on Presidential Debates, and Candy Crowley became the first female moderator for a presidential debate in 20 years. These students created change because of opportunities presented to them in CGI.  

In my time at Montclair High, I have felt that being part of this smaller community makes the large size of MHS manageable. CGI has given me a real support system, and a place in which I feel like I belong. CGI is a community that appreciates your unique assets and values each students’ contributions. It is truly gratifying after nearly two lonely school years in lockdown.

Last year I witnessed the Seniors, who had returned after their Sophomore and Junior years were wiped out by COVID, work to create a CGI that was as normal and effective as possible. Their effort inspired me to make CGI a better place for future classes. 

I have spent the past few months campaigning for a CGI that I can be proud of, which has resonated with a lot of dedicated members. The focus of our administration will be to ensure that the institute is reaching its full potential, and that passion translates to productivity. 

The Civics and Government Institute is a resounding model for why political participation is effective and why a strong community is important. Students in CGI are forward thinkers, and the staff push them to be so. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish next year. 

I am honored to lead a community that has continuously demonstrated the power of collective voice and democracy. 

Sam Safirstein

President-elect of the Civics and Government Institute