July 17, 2015

The laid-back days of summer are perfect for getting young people outside to explore the neighborhood, talk with community members, and think of ways to improve the places they live, play and learn. In fact, student-generated civic engagement projects can provide powerful lessons in “how society works” and how groups and individuals of all ages can make a positive difference.

For example, the students in your afterschool program might decide they’d like to turn an unsightly vacant lot into an obstacle course or community garden. They’d need to find the property owner (which might require a visit to City Hall or the County Courthouse), ask permission, develop a detailed plan and rationale, solicit advice and participation from local business and community leaders, obtain any necessary permits (another trip to City Hall) and work together to make it happen. By encouraging them to dream of what could be, and to turn dreaming to doing, you can help young people develop meaningful civic knowledge, skills and dispositions. 

The “Civic Learning and Engagement” materials on Y4Y make it easy for you to get started. This special section of the Project-Based Learning training module includes examples of civic learning and engagement in action, a process for helping students generate and act on their own ideas and tools for successful civic engagement projects.

Opportunities for civic learning and engagement are especially important for low-income and minority youth served in 21st CCLC programs. Researchers have found that low-income youth are less likely to become politically engaged than their more affluent peers. Results from the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress show that a persistent civic achievement gap persists among racial and ethnic groups. Less than a fourth of those taking the assessment (22 percent) said they had worked on a group project, and only 2 percent reported going on field trips or having outside speakers.    

You can make a difference by opening the door to active involvement in local civic projects that interest your students and helping them reflect on their experiences.