LENOX

The world's hot topics have become the talk among some local high school students.

On Friday, upperclassmen from a Lenox Memorial Middle and High School current events class researched and hosted a town meeting-style panel discussion on health care reform with some leading experts on the subjects.

The meeting was the fifth in a series of forums in the Student Town Meeting Program sponsored by the Berkshire Compact for Education. The programs are all videotaped and the recordings are aired on all three of Berkshire County's community access cable television stations.

"The program has been a very positive experience," said Mary Nash, project coordinator for the Berkshire Compact. "When our students get on stage, they are so eloquent and knowledgeable on the topic they've researched."

Former Taconic High School Principal Doug McNally, a Compact member, said the program started in 2009, with meetings held by the UNITY youth group of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, Taconic High School and Drury High School.

On April 30, students from the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School held a meeting at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts titled "Is the American Dream Still Alive?"

Modeled after public radio station WAMC's town meetings, the meetings are designed to give local students the opportunity to research and discuss current issues from local to international levels, pose questions to local experts in the field, and share their discussion with their peers and members of the community.

On Friday, Lenox students from teacher David Fisher's "Focus 21" class shared a stage with panelists Chip Joffe-Halpern, executive director of Ecu-Health Care and president of Health Care for All; Darlene Rodowicz, chief financial officer at Berkshire Health Systems; and Karen Smith, account executive with Toole Agency.

Pittsfield City Councilor John Krol served as the meeting's moderator. Students gave presentations on the history of health care, cost of health insurance and managing the costs, the politics of health care reform, and the Massachusetts health reform law.

The students, who had been researching the topic for a month, then posed a variety of questions to the local experts such as "Should health insurance be provided by employers?", "What factors are driving the costs of health care and insurance?", and "Has the system of mandatory but subsidized health care been successful?"

"I think this is a great opportunity to get involved talking about what's current," said junior Shannon O'Connor.

Senior Danny Fuore said, "Issues like this, like health care, are going to affect our future."

The Student Town Meeting Program will resume again in the fall.

Schools who wish to participate in student town meetings during the 2010-11 school year should contact Mary Nash, Berkshire Compact Project coordinator, at mary.nash@mcla.edu.

To reach Jenn Smith: jsmith@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6239