Project Citizen is a Project Citizen is an interdisciplinary curricular program for middle, secondary, and post-secondary students, youth organizations, and adult groups that promotes competent and responsible participation in local and state government.
The program helps participants learn how to monitor and influence public policy. In the process, they develop support for democratic values and principles, tolerance, and feelings of political efficacy.
Every year, I participate in the state competition in Olympia. This year, I worked with middle school students.
Opening ceremonies in the Senate Dome, complete with a Color Guard from JBLM, were lovely. I delivered opening remarks, telling my immigrant story: why my parents chose to leave Hungary as refugees shortly after I was born and why they chose to come to the US. We believed in freedom of thought, belief, and speech, as well as our freedom to choose, and, when necessary, to make changes to, our government.
Many of the students in attendance were immigrants themselves or children or grandchildren of immigrants. I spoke of Tikkun Olam – the Jewish concept of healing the world and why this work is so important. I showed a wristband I received at the Loren Miller Bar dinner and explained who Loren Miller was and why he mattered. The wristband says “Believe in Miracles” and I wear it now for Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst who continues to battle cancer.
Each participating class of middle school students chose a project. One class chose school security, another chose lead in drinking water at the school, another chose the issue of dress codes, and two classes chose student stress and mental health.
The students brought storyboards to present their issue. The first storyboard panel explained the issue and why they chose it. The second presented alternative ways to address the issue – the benefits and challenges. The third panel spelled out the solution. The fourth panel was an action plan to implement the solution.
The students also prepared a binder for sources of information that didn’t make it onto the storyboards. The binders included the research, the other solutions, and the experts they consulted. Each panel of judges rated the storyboards on various detailed criteria. Judges included retired teachers, people from the business world, lawyers, doctors, and others. I think I was the only sitting judge, but I may be mistaken. My fellow judges were a school librarian, and a consumer credit finance person.
After we rated the story boards, we saw the kids in the Cherberg hearing rooms, where a panel of students gave prepared oral presentations on each of the 4 panels of their storyboards, and we had an opportunity to ask them follow up questions.
We ate pizza then participated in closing ceremonies in the Senate dome.
The winning team was from Evergreen Middle School in the Lake Washington school district, which by chance, was one of the two classes I was assigned to judge. They chose lead in drinking water. The other class I was assigned to judge was from Yelm, and their chosen topic was school security.
It was a fantastic event and one I look forward to every year. Learn more about Project Citizen and please consider participation!