CIF School Spotlight – Rock University High School, USA

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility,” 

– Eleanor Roosevelt 

Rock University High School (RUHS) has been a participant of the Critical Issues Forum since 2007. When RUHS was a half-day program called the Academy for International Studies, we invited the former director from the Stanley Foundation – now the Stanley Center – as a guest speaker. During their periodical, our founder Jane Thompson discovered an announcement from the State Department, requesting schools to contact them to receive more information about a high school opportunity researching issues related to nuclear nonproliferation. She filled out the request, got more info, then applied, and in 2007 & 2008, the Academy participated as an observer of the Critical Issues forum. In 2009, we had the opportunity to send our first team, five years before Rock University High School transitioned into a full-day comprehensive public charter school in 2014. In 2019, RUHS partnered with Blackhawk Technical College and redesigned itself as a Middle College, a public high school where students can earn their associate degree and high school diploma congruently. 

Erin Jensen (second from the right) with RUHS students at CIF 2019 Spring Conference

From when Rock University High School was a part-time program to its now full-time Middle College status, RUHS has always had designated coursework dedicated to our school’s participation in the Critical Issues Forum. However, once we became a full-time, comprehensive high school, we created a separate Critical Issues Forum elective course. Our course is a full year that consists of twice-a-week sessions of 45-60 minutes. In this course, students work together as a team to think outside the box and be a part of the world conversation about one of the world’s most controversial issues: Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament. The first semester is spent researching the history and science of Nuclear Weapons, culminating in a final mini-project that we turn into the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Once the theme is released, two (based on school population) CIF ambassadors will be selected by the instructor(s), the Dean of Students, and the RUHS Board. This opportunity allows students to be a part of the world conversation on educating for peace at the forum. Students chosen as CIF ambassadors will be responsible for a portion of CIF fees.   

“Working with students for the Critical Issues Forum is such an inspiring experience. Like most educators, I have the utmost confidence in the younger generations, and my student’s participation in the Critical Issues Forum has only strengthened that trust. The amount of skills and dedication needed for students to tackle nuclear proliferation, one of the world’s most significant issues, is high, yet our students, time and time again, are up for the challenge. Their creativity and critical thinking used in their projects and overall compassion for the world is incredibly admirable and restores new hope for our future every year,”   

Erin Jensen, RUHS CIF Teacher

Erin Jensen (Social Studies) has been the teacher leading the Critical Issues Forum class since the 2016-2017 school year. Stephanie Villarello (Science) joined the CIF course team during the 2018-19 school year. Having two teachers from different disciplines has aided in the rigor of the course as students are engaged in both the historical and scientific concepts of nuclear weapons.  

CIF Ambassadors  

2016-17 Gabe Britt & Jon Maraki  

2017-18 James Anderson & James Taylor  

2018-19 James Anderson  & Nick Jacobus  

2019-20 Aliyah Berg & Luke Perry  

2020-21 All students participated as the conference was online.  

2021-22 All students participated as the conference was online. Annie Barnes was selected as a CIF student panelist.  

RUHS CIF Work Over the Years — each folder contains work completed over the years. 

“Critical Issues Forum helps participants develop an awareness of the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons and equips participants with academic tools for research, conflict resolution, and mutual understanding. Students are inspired by interactions with atomic bomb survivors, graduate students, and experts on the impact of nuclear war. These activities and experiences have an impact on our students and communities; they raise awareness about the catastrophic global impacts of nuclear war and inspire our next generation to work locally and globally to promote more peaceful societies.” 

Stephanie Villarello, RUHS CIF teacher