Students can get involved in a new program that aims to teach high schoolers about politics.
Generation Citizen works with college students to help high schoolers become more aware of local politics. The group is looking for volunteers.
Dr. Karen Youmans, honors program director and English professor of, and Lesley Black, associate dean of students, are in communication with Generation Citizen representatives about starting an official OCU chapter.
As of now, there is no chapter, but students are encouraged to get involved.
Meeting a need
Only 23 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in civics, according to a National Assessment of Educational Progress test.
This is especially true in low-income schools like Oklahoma City Public Schools, which is where the Oklahoma division of Generation Citizen is focused.
“We recognized a disconnect between really smart students and what they understand about our democracy,” said Amy Curran, Oklahoma site manager for Generation Citizen.
College mentors are called “democracy coaches” and teach two courses that are hour-long at an assigned school in the metro area.
The coaching process begins with a 10-hour training on governance at the Oklahoma Public Schools’ resource center, 309 N.W. 13th St.
Two democracy coaches are paired to teach at an assigned classroom, and they speak with students about the political issues that affect them.
They then help the students identify the root causes of the issue and develop policy goals, both legislative and executive.
During their “Civics Day” on Dec. 8, a few students and their democracy coaches present their proposed legislation to city officials.
Students are encouraged to attend city council meetings and municipal meetings, and they learn how to use social media to promote their causes.
The program also is meant to inspire youth voices, reallocate resources, champion current legislation, and connect high schoolers to decision makers.
Curran said Generation Citizen also can be beneficial to the democracy coaches’ experience.
“It’s a really great way for college students to have a deep look at issues that are affecting students in the OKC metro area and connect with professionals, legislators and elected officials in Oklahoma City,” she said.
Curran is an OCU alumna and said she’s looking forward to starting a chapter at OCU after already beginning two Oklahoma chapters last semester at the University of Oklahoma in Norman and the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
There are no prerequisites for students interested in being democracy coaches.
“We are looking for students who are interested in social change and policy,” Curran said. “We’re looking for college students who want to understand how what they’re studying at the university level connects at a deeper level.”
Curran said the program also can help high school students learn more about how they can get into college and introduce them to the college experience.
Alyssa Fisher will direct OCU students’ involvement in Generation Citizen. As a recent college graduate, she said she realizes college can be busy, but she also said programs like Generation Citizen are worth the work.
“Quite frankly, the kids at Oklahoma City schools need to feel important, and I don’t feel like that’s happening right now,” Fisher said.
Beatrize Martinez, second-year law student, is a new democracy coach. She said she looks forward to teaching students how to engage themselves politically.
“The students of Oklahoma County had walked out in protest of the education cuts, and I know this opportunity to teach them how to take the next steps and to have their voice heard will be so beneficial,” Martinez said.
Martinez started her training last weekend and said she’s been impressed so far.
“The orientation I was given appeared to have so many proven steps in engaging the youth on achievable issues and connecting them with State representatives,” she said.
Martinez said the program requires about six to eight hours of work per week, with two of those hours being in high school government classrooms.
“They’ll work with your schedule, and you can be paired up with another democracy coach that has the same availability that you do,” she said.
Martinez said she encourages all students to apply for the program.
“We need all hands on deck, and the connections you’ll make throughout this journey will be beneficial to you whether you decide to be a school teacher, lawyer or want to even learn how to be a better citizen yourself,” she said.
Kimberlea Harlow, psychology/child advocacy senior, works with the organization and is trying to recruit more students. She said the program does a good job of preparing its democracy coaches.
“They will train and teach you everything you need to know to be able to teach the high school students how to effectively advocate for themselves through participation in the political process,” Harlow said.
Alumna Amy Smith worked with Generation Citizen last year and recommends it.
“I was inspired by the growth my students showed as well as the impact Generation Citizen has,” Smith said.
Interested students may visit generationcitizen.org or email Curran at firstname.lastname@example.org.