Reflections on Civic Learning Week: From Classroom to Everyday

Reflections on Civic Learning Week: From Classroom to Everyday

For me, the most valuable part of the committee was listening.

From a young age my parents told me silence was a privilege, a privilege that I am not fortunate enough to give up. I spent a large majority of my life hiding behind what was safe, and as an Asian American woman, that seems like all we ever do. The pandemic opened my eyes to so many inequalities as we were shut in our homes. In a way, the quarantine’s physical ramifications replicated how I felt my entire life, with my mind as my own prison that I was so afraid to leave. Though as much as I was scared to leave, I was also anxious for the window from the CDC to say it's safe to go. 

The pandemic brought so many mental health issues to surface. I watched it consume my grandparents as it reminded of the wars they had lost their parents and home countries. I watched it as the news broadcasted hate crimes against Black Americans during the George Floyd protests. I watched as people grew hysterical over boredom, inadequate supplies, and financial loss. Which is why becoming an advocate was so important to me and why advocacy has become the zeitgeist of our generation. 

Growing up in a family very engaged in politics and recent news, I was surrounded by information and different points of view. I have been able to do social justice work through the creation of artwork and magazines and this year, I was incredibly grateful to start an internship at the Citizens Committee for Children as part of their YouthAction NYC Internship program. I looked into the Community Leadership Council’s work, and was amazed by their dedication to tackling these relevant issues. Not only do members of the Council advocate by means of social media, but they focus on direct impact through other means like lobbying, which I am excited to get involved in and be able to speak and listen to cases in Albany. I appreciated how the organization’s mission has remained focused on its core values of providing resources to all, while still remaining up to date on low income groups in NYC that need it most. Through the internship I was exposed to extensive research and data analysis on child and family well-being. This particularly intrigued me because it is a part of advocacy that often is overlooked, but so vital. 

Thanks to my supervisor’s recommendation, I was able to join the DemocracyReady NY Civic Learning Week Youth Event Planning Committee and create Beyond the Vote: Youth Civic Participation from Classroom to Community. This is a program in association with the Teachers College of Columbia University to work to create and facilitate a panel teaching students across the New York State methods to be civically engaged in their communities. With our passionate and talented advisor, Katie Loos, we conducted outreach to teachers, students, and Department of Education faculty members involved in types of government to discuss implementation of civic education in curriculum and obtaining accessible and reliable information for all youth. This all lead to our final goal which was to create a webinar addressing 3 essential questions: 

  1. How can students be involved in the policy making process to advocate for their educational needs? Led by Mia Giannicchi, Allegany-Limestone High School, Allegany & Ariana Tzanos, Academy of American Studies, Queens
  2. How can students get started in civic engagement? Led by Sonja Aibel, Brooklyn Technical High School, Brooklyn &  Max Meyer, Horace Mann School, The Bronx
  3. How can we make connections between civic learning and bring that into the classroom in an accessible way? Led by Valentino Indelicato, Nottingham High School, Syracuse & Franchesca Tiburcio, Democracy Prep Harlem High School, Manhattan

For me, the most valuable part of the committee was listening. I felt that I learned much more about current American politics than my government class in school just from speaking to members on the event planning team, let alone the speakers in the panel. It was inspiring to hear how other members were engaged with their communities either by heading political clubs, volunteering at voting booths or working for elected officials. The experience showed me something I don’t think I had grasped before, which was that change starts in small steps. While we can hope that things reach a national level, issues require group effort to bring attention. As Christopher Marte puts it, “Why deviate the message or the narrative to fit something that is happening on the national level, when we all know that politics is local.”

It was truly an honor to be able to speak with talented youth across NYC and hear about their personal experiences and opinions about civic participation. I had the pleasure to research and learn about the varied lives of members of the panel and received inspiration from their impacts.  

It all starts in that small voice in you head that wants to be heard and all it takes is one person to encourage that voice to speak out. It was such a positive experience to see that all the speakers at our event were the type of people who encouraged and celebrated student voices. I’ve seen what community outreach does. I have worked with amazingly kind and knowledgeable volunteer organizers and now I know that power to help organizations comes from voting. Through the committee, I have been able to learn the skills to give back to them and meet new amazing like minded individuals where together we won’t wait for change, we’ll make it. Gabriel Lewenstein sums it up perfectly, “Politics and government is not designed to be accessible the doors aren’t always open, but it’s our job to make it so.”

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