For many high school and middle school students, civic engagement may not be their top priority, but one millennial is working to reverse that. By connecting them with college volunteers, Generation Citizen is working to transform the next generation into civic-minded citizens.
With his father a member of the State Department, Generation Citizen Founder Scott Warren grew up watching the people of Zimbabwe, Kenya and other African and Latin American countries take great pride and enjoyment from participating in elections. However, upon his return to the United States, he found the exact opposite — which inspired him to take action.
According to National Journal, the idea for Generation Citizen came to Warren in 2007, during his senior year at Brown University. By 2008, he had two programs running in Providence, R.I. high schools. And in just six short years, Warren has grown the program to include 10,000 students and 500 college volunteers across New York City, San Francisco, Boston and Providence.
What is Generation Citizen? Well, it’s a nonprofit that places college volunteers in high schools and middle schools to teach a class and run a semester long civic-centered project. These college volunteers (or Democracy Coaches, as they’re called) are neither student teachers nor education majors, but are simply interested and engaged citizens.
For one semester, a Democracy Coach works in a classroom helping students research and develop a plan to solve a local problem of their choosing. First, the students have to identify the root cause. Next, they create a specific goal to address that cause. Then, they must create a list of people who can achieve that goal and develop tactics to persuade them to help. Lastly, they form alliances and execute the plan.
Some of the issues covered include bullying, public housing, unemployment and public transit.
The purpose is to show students that their voice can be heard and that it is possible to influence those in charge.
According to Warren, many students are skeptical at first that they can make a difference. “We’ll go into the classroom and say, ‘How many of you actually feel like you can actually change your communities?’” he tells National Journal. “At the beginning, a lot of them are really skeptical.”
What makes the difference for the students, though, is the dedication and encouragement of their Democracy Coaches.
“They treated us like college students,” eighth-grader Sayem Hossain says. “Whenever they gave us work they were like, ‘You guys want to do this?’ They made us feel like, ‘If you don’t want to do this, what’s the point of doing it?'”
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