By: Summer Wu
A group of JSA students recently were invited to facilitate discussions amongst their states’ top education leaders, ranging from superintendents to state senators. With the recent national push for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) focused schools, many educators fear that civic education, which inspires students to be active participants in democracy, may be overlooked. As a result, the National Center for Learning and Citizenship (NCLC) and the Education Commission of the States (ECS) have partnered to sponsor “Every Student A Citizen”, a project which aims to bring together state leaders to foster the development of state policy supporting civic learning and engagement. This past June, legislators, teachers, and youth leaders convened at three regional conferences across the country in order to prioritize, discuss, and pursue this mission. Among the youth leaders present were four JSA Governors representing Texas, Illinois, California, and New Jersey.
Each meeting kicked off with a plenary session addressing the civic outcomes of schools with speakers including Dr. Paul Baumann, Director of the National Center for Learning and Citizenship, and Ted McConnell, Executive Director of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. An engaging panel discussion on models of best practice followed, with teachers sharing their own success stories and offering advice on how to implement such practices in other schools. “It was fantastic to see how fired up the civic leaders became by the thought of implementing civic education reform,” said Texas Governor Griffin Rubin, “They all aspire to prepare our generation for a successful future.” Governor Rubin and Midwest Governor Summer Wu attended the Central Regional Meeting held at the Cantigny Park Visitors Center in Wheaton, IL.
After a keynote address that outlined the urgent need for policies to improve civic education outcomes, attendees broke off into their state teams, each of which was led by a youth facilitator. Mid-Atlantic Governor Simone Klein found the experience of moderating her New Jersey state team to be exhilarating. She said, “I felt like I was part of establishing goals that might become actual policy for an issue that I feel a connection to.” Governor Klein attended the Eastern Regional Meeting at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA. In their first session, state teams identified and prioritized civic outcomes for schools in their state. Next, they identified state policies that serve as roadblocks or supports for promoting civic education in schools. Finally, state teams identified measures that had to be taken in order to accomplish the previously agreed upon outcomes.
The impact of each conference did not end with the conclusion of the day’s events. After meeting the Principal Advisor to the California State Superintendent, Craig Cheslog, Southern California Governor Julianna Joss was invited to the Secretary of State’s Office several weeks later to discuss the implementation of a mock election program for high school students across California. “I was fortunate enough to meet with Carrie Jett from the California Secretary of State, and together we devised a plan of action to involve JSA chapters in the California MyVote mock election program, sponsored by Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, and Superintendent, Tom Torlakson,” said Governor Joss, “I am extremely excited to see JSA chapters participate in this program that fosters civic engagement and education.” Governor Joss attended the Western Regional Meeting held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA.
Governor Wu summarized her experience by saying that, “It was inspirational to work with such a distinguished, passionate group of people to address youth involvement, a concern of national importance.” These governors will now take what they’ve learned from their conferences to enact positive change in their own states. As usual, JSAers are taking to heart the motto, “Be the People”, of the organization they represent.