Theme Panel: Educating Young Citizens for Engaged Citizenship

Educating Young Citizens for Engaged Citizenship

Co-sponsored by Division 58: Civic Engagement
Created Panel

(Chair) Bobbi Gentry, Bridgewater College; (Discussant) J. Cherie Strachan, Virginia Commonwealth University

Session Description:
This panel examines the ways that young people can become prepared for engaged citizenship through educational opportunities in schools as well as through the broader political socialization process. The papers focus on educating young people of color, students living in poverty, and young people at risk. The papers offer insights from curriculum interventions designed to foster inclusivity and close divides in civic engagement.


Political Socialization to Civic Engagement in Black Girls and Women
Teri F Platt, Clark Atlanta University

The political socialization of black girls in America is an understudied phenomenon that has implications for the broader political participation of black women who have demonstrated themselves to be a solid, and reliable voting group in national elections. This paper utilizes survey data and interviews with black girls aged 7-17 years and black women aged 18 and older to understand early political socialization processes and civic engagement activities. Evaluation of data using data analysis and theme identification aid in understanding the political socialization processes in black girlhood in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, that have produced this reliable block and I seek to map it on to the current political socialization process of black girls in the 2000s to the present.

Rethinking Inclusivity in K-12 Civic Engagement: School Participatory Budgeting
Tara Lynn Bartlett, Arizona State University

The unequal distribution of K12 civic education opportunities and meaningful civic engagement is well-documented. Schools in under-resourced communities are less likely to offer high quality civic learning opportunities than schools located in affluent districts. Moreover, unequal access to civic learning opportunities is noticeable along lines of race, class, and ability. Students of color, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities are afforded fewer opportunities to develop the knowledge, attitudes, skills and practices necessary for full participation in democratic life, from leadership and public speaking to deliberative competencies and political efficacy. In sum, these students are less likely to experience civic-oriented government classes, service-learning programs, democratic simulations, exposure to and discussion of current events, classroom environments open to dialogue and conversations. Through the ‘Matthew effect’, these inequalities widen over time. This civic opportunity gap creates uneven political agency and power and can be observed in different levels of civic participation, electoral engagement, influence on policy, political representation, and capacity for self-governance among adult populations. In short, students who engage in civic activities in school are more likely to participate as adults, and there is correlation between socioeconomic status, ability and race, on the one hand, and access to civic education opportunities and levels of lifelong political participation, on the other. In this presentation, we discuss an emergent, innovative approach to rethinking civic learning: school participatory budgeting (SPB). SPB is a civic pedagogical practice that simultaneously nurtures civic inclusivity, student engagement, and school democracy. In the last decade, SPB has been growing in different parts of the world, from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and the United States to Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, Scotland, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and Romania, and Zambia among others. SPB is an offspring of participatory budgeting (PB), a democratic process in which communities make decisions on how to spend a portion of a public budget. PB started in 1989 in Brazil and is now being implemented in over 11,000 cities in all continents. Similar to PB, the SPB process is typically organized in five steps: 1) students propose ideas to improve the school community; 2) students transform these ideas into viable proposals by conducting research and considering impacts, costs and feasibility; 3) students deliberate on all viable proposals discussing pros and cons; 4) full student body votes on proposals to select winning projects; and 5) winning projects are funded and implemented, with the cycle repeated the following year. The SPB process focuses on creating a space for students to advocate through collective voice, increase civic and leadership skills, and build relationships. Several studies show SPB empowers students to lead as community problem-solvers and acquire skills and attitudes needed for lifelong active civic engagement. Additional research has shown SPB to open pathways to equitable civic learning opportunities and inclusionary civic engagement practices in schools. This includes a student steering committee representative of all members of the student community, accessible opportunities for participation, and school community-wide engagement. In 2013, one high school in Arizona was the first in the US to pilot a school-based PB process. Since then, Arizona has been at the forefront of SPB experimentation, innovation, and expansion. SPB in Arizona is now being implemented in over 50 public schools across 5 cities, involving upwards of 50,000 students every year. Our presentation shares findings from three distinct SPB processes taking place in Arizona. One SPB process is a district-wide initiative to redesign school safety in lieu of the nonrenewal of SRO (school resource officer) contracts. Another SPB process has adopted a purposeful, inclusive approach to include students with disabilities in every phase of the process. The final SPB process we discuss is one in which the district has utilized ESSER (Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief) funds in a community-driven process to address educational disparities spotlighted by the pandemic. Drawing on theoretical underpinnings of participatory democracy and a YPAR (youth participatory action research) approach, we describe our use of mixed methods in data collection and analysis in the SPB process. Data includes field note observations, document analysis, surveys, and interviews with different stakeholder groups (i.e. educators, students, school leaders, and parents). Additionally, we examine issues related to the design, implementation, and evaluation of these SPB processes.

Teaching Civic Engagement through Immersive Experience
Diana M. Owen, Georgetown University

The Center for Civic Education developed the Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics to provide an immersive educational experience in civics, American government, and political history for secondary school teachers and their students. The Academies were held as a residential, in person program during the summer of 2019 and took place virtually in 2021. Participants were recruited nationwide with preference given to those meeting high-need criteria. The program combined scholar lectures, small group interactive sessions, and field trips. This study examines the content and instructional strategies of the student Academies to provide context for assessing their effectiveness. The core question addressed is: To what extent did students attending the Academies gain knowledge, dispositions, and skills conducive to civic engagement? The Civic Education Research Lab (CERL) at Georgetown University conducted pre- and post-program surveys and semi-structured interviews of student participants. Findings indicate that students in both program years acquired substantial civics and history content knowledge, became more interested in and attentive to civic affairs, developed enhanced dispositions to engage in community and political life, and gained civic and media literacy skills. The effectiveness of the in-person and virtual student Academies was comparable on most key indicators.

Youth Voice: Bridging Intergenerational Divides in Civic Engagement
Kirstie Lynn Dobbs, Merrimack College

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many young people felt disconnected from on-the-ground engagement with their peers and society. School closures across Massachusetts also stymied the growth of students’ abilities to write, speak, and express themselves through various media. This was especially true in low-income areas and communities of color. Lawrence MA falls into this category given its per capita income is $20,858 (average in MA is $43,761), and about 77 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latinx. To fill these gaps, a team of interdisciplinary researchers at Merrimack College collaborated with a local community partner, the Merrimack Valley YMCA in Lawrence, MA, on developing a civic engagement program that bridges young people’s interest in engaged citizenship with their writing, speaking, and team-building skill sets. This program is called Youth Voice. The purpose of Youth Voice is to support the empowerment of young people by sharpening their tools for enacting advocacy in their communities. The program participants are between 11-16 years of age and are recruited by the YMCA. As a result of this program, participants will be able to use their written and oral communication skills, participate in open-minded engagement with others, and express their voice using a variety of mediums (including art, music, and media). A sub-goal of the broad agenda is to equip students with digital literacy skills that help them navigate information on social media. Young people overwhelmingly receive their information via social media, which is potentially problematic in their participation in civic life given the widespread presence of disinformation and misinformation spread online. If young people do not develop critical thinking tools to navigate through and distinguish accurate information from mis/disinformation, they will remain particularly vulnerable to online manipulation and coercion. Through Youth Voice, young people will gain the ability to identify false information online, which empowers them to shape their ideologies and enhances their ability to form evidence-based opinions. The research team applies a mix-methods approach when evaluating the outcomes of Youth Voice. First, an anonymous pre-and post-survey designed to assess orientation towards civic participation and engagement will be disseminated to Youth Voice participants and Merrimack College student facilitators. The questions on the survey have been adapted from The Youth and Participatory Politics Panel Survey. The survey measures participants’ baseline for civic engagement before entering the program and their confidence in participating in politics and civic life after completing it. A follow-up survey will also be disseminated one year after completing the program to measure the long-term sustainability of promoting youth civic engagement. Second, an anonymous feedback form will be disseminated to students after completing the program. This form includes questions on a Likert scale and open-ended questions on components of the program, and questions gauging interest in future participation in the program. Feedback from this survey will be incorporated to enhance future programming. After completing the feedback form, students will participate in focus group discussions where interviewers ask the participants about the program and their feelings towards civic engagement. Third, investigators will review completed work by the youth each week to assess whether objectives are met. In our 2021 pilot study, about 21 percent of the participants identified as African American/Black, and 64 percent identified as Hispanic/Latinx. We found that the youth were 40 percent more likely to engage with an organization or a corporation trying to help their community, were 30 percent more likely to organize people to bring attention to an issue or get something changed and were 58 percent more likely to ask an adult for help in getting something changed in their community. The sample size in the pilot study is small (N = 11), but these results showcase the potential positive impact that Youth Voice could have on the empowerment of young people – especially in terms of community engagement and social justice activism among BIPOC youth in a low-income area. We also found that engagement between the youth and the Merrimack College undergraduates increased their trust in adults to help them advocate for social change. This paper presents data over a two-year program cycle (July 2021 and July 2022). The research will enhance our understanding of the best community-driven practices for growing young people’s capacity for democratic participation. The study also provides data on the efficacy of youth civic engagement programs in promoting the holistic development of BIPOC youth living in low-income communities.