NSF Funding Helps Middle Schoolers Become Active Citizens
Newton eighth graders are learning to be civic activists through Generation Citizen a hands-on educational initiative that teaches middle and high school students how to affect meaningful change in their communities by taking civic action.Newton Schools Foundation funded the successful pilot in two Day Middle School social studies classes in Spring 2016 and provided additional funding for the program’s roll-out this year to all eighth grade social studies classes at Day.
During the 10-week program, democracy coaches—specially trained college students—work with classroom teachers to implement the Generation Citizen curriculum.The program culminates in a Civics Day at the Massachusetts State House, when each class makes a presentation to other Generation Citizen communities on the research and action they’ve taken.
“This program helps students learn how to be advocates in their own community,” said Social Studies teacher Tim Matthews, who worked with democracy coaches from Emerson College and Boston College to pilot Generation Citizen at Day. This year Brandeis University students will are joining Day staff as democracy coaches.
During the pilot phase, one group of participating eighth graders gave public comment on learning time at the April 27 meeting of the Newton School Committee. They asked School Committee members to consider reducing required learning time for middle school in order to provide ample time for students to pass between classes and eat their lunch, backing their testimony with research and anecdotes.
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Another group of Day students participating in Generation Citizen presented to the district safety team, recommending implementation of the ALICE program instead of passive lock down procedures in the event of a school intruder. “Civics Day…was the single most impactful experience of the year,” according to one Day Generation Citizen teacher. “For our students, seeing the gap in the types of challenges that they face in a white upper-middle-class suburb compared to the challenges of inner city urban and diverse districts really hit home.”
How successful was Day’s Generation Citizen pilot?
98% of students felt that decisions made by local government officials impact them and their family, compared with 78% prior to GC.
95% of students felt that contacting public officials can have an impact on policy and/or budget decisions, compared with 77% prior to GC.
91% of students felt that they have the power to make a difference in their community, compared with 70% prior to GC.
In the future, 95% of students expect to vote in elections compared to 85% prior to GC.