Having been briefly introduced to Project Citizen at the National Academy, I decided to try it out this year. It’s an ideal, outcome-based activity as much about the journey as the finish. And the great thing about the finish is that it’s really just the beginning, for students receive the tools to research and formulate public policy. In the end, it is incredibly empowering for the kids to discover the pathways through which they can enact change.
A few words from my fourth-graders (non-speakers) when asked today by the panel what they had learned from the experience: “I learned what private domain is.” “Compromise.” “Better research skills.” “How a bill becomes a law.” “How long it takes to pass a bill.” “A lot about pollution and landfills.”
In our first few sessions, my 4th-6th grade students narrowed their choices for the project to these rough ideas: Save Bears, Clean-Up Michigan’s Rivers, Fix the Litter in Detroit. The more we delved into the text, students discovered that those topics really weren’t clear proposals for public policy. They also gained a ton of knowledge regarding sovereignty, as well as private sphere/civil society/ government. The more they learned, the more focused their idea became, and their eventual choice–EXPAND MICHIGAN’S BOTTLE LAW–ended up as a wonderful combination of the early favorites.
The four areas of the portfolio–PROBLEM, ALTERNATIVE POLICIES, OUR SOLUTION, and ACTION PLAN–serve as a fantastic outline for anyone of any age attempting to bring about change.
The panel presentation in a committee room at the state capitol was the pinnacle of the experience. Having misjudged time, our project came down to the wire (lesson learned: start early!); as a result, the kids didn’t first benefit and learn from a local session. However, they could not have done any better than what I witnessed today. Thorough preparation pays dividends, and I was so proud of my students for presenting without reading from a page. (It does make a difference, I can tell you, as we were able to observe a high school group who did just that.)
We will be participating in Project Citizen next year, and in the years after! Sincerely, the entire process has been one of the most valuable of my entire teaching career.
If you have any questions about Project Citizen, right down to the tooth ‘n’ nails, feel free to contact me at [email protected], or pose your questions here.