August 6, 2021
A sense of purpose drives most success in life, whether that success is as a parent, a home health aide or president of the United States. By tapping into that human instinct in every one of your students, you can make an immeasurable impact on their lives. Two Y4Y courses, Citizen Science and Civic Learning and Engagement, offer ways to help students find a path to community participation that can give them a sense of greater purpose well beyond their years in your program.
Citizen science means that everyday members of the community can make impactful contributions to scientific advances. This crowdsourcing of information takes little training or even deep understanding of all the principles at work, though often participants in a citizen science project gain significant knowledge through their involvement. Have your students felt like bystanders for the last 18 months, helpless as a new virus wreaked havoc on the world? Biomedical scientists are always looking for volunteers to advance their work. CitizenScience.org has a full list of projects soliciting help in all aspects of COVID-19. Explore many other topics, ranging from studying water quality to space feature hunting, at CitizenScience.gov or through your own internet searching. Just keep these simple tips and tools at hand:
- Discover what your students are passionate about and where they most want to make a difference. It might be in your backyard or on a global scale.
- Whenever possible, align student interests with school-day curricula, using Y4Y’s Assessing Alignment Efforts tool.
- Reflect on your impact together in a structured way. You can draw inspiration from former successful projects by NASA, Astro Quest or this engaging TED Talk on citizen science.
- The Y4Y Citizen Science Research Brief offers more detail on the potential impact on your program.
In a similar way, Y4Y’s Civic Learning and Engagement course offers helpful guidance for channeling students’ interest in their community into meaningful contribution. Youth of today are increasingly engaged in the world around them. Whether this is because of social media, cameras on cell phones that make more human experiences universally accessible, or a less tangible raising of collective consciousness, there’s no denying that young people today are aware of the problems around them and they’re eager to fix them. Public figures like climate change activist Greta Thunberg, education advocate Malala Yousafzai, and gun control activist David Hogg may very well reflect the passion and drive you see in the students in your program.
It’s never too early to start sowing those seeds of community purpose in your 21st CCLC program. Start by
- Familiarizing yourself with child development characteristics and youth development stages you can tap into to spark childhood interest in community.
- Considering the potential partners in your community.
- Brainstorming civic engagement topics with your students.
- Checking out the rest of Y4Y’s tools for guiding students through civic learning and engagement.
Citizen science and civic engagement aren’t mutually exclusive. You may opt to offer both kinds of opportunities to your students to expand the breadth of your program. Studies tell us that they’ll expand their skills, feel empowered, grow into responsible and productive citizens, and even live longer by establishing the practice of being contributors. Most famously, the Harvard Grant study, now 83 years running, demonstrates that “people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community are happier, they’re physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less well connected,” according to Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger. Your program, along with the school-day, may be the first communities your students are experiencing. Help them expand that vision of community beyond your walls, your city and even the country. Your students will benefit, and so will the world.