Monday, August 30, 2021

Civic Engagement and Activism in Afterschool Programs: Forms and Strategies


By Sam Piha

We will be posting a series of blogs to inform and encourage expanded learning programs to start infusing civic engagement and activism in their afterschool program. NOTE: There are many program resources on the topic, some of which are detailed in our paper, Youth Civic Engagement and Activism in Expanded Learning Programs. You can read other blogs in this series hereWe also held a webinar on this topic which can be viewed here.

ivic engagement and activism come in many forms. There are a number of ways to help youth build their activism skills. In this blog we detail a number of these forms and strategies. Consider how the following could be included in your expanded learning program setting. 

When their contributions are recognized, young people come to understand their place and value in the world.”
- Meghan Lynch Forder 

Promoting Voting and Census Participation - "Voting and elections happen everywhere and provide valuable opportunities for young people to use their voices and have a tangible impact—and because it can serve as an entry point to other kinds of participation. But young people have political lives beyond the ballot box that meaningfully influence everything from consumer decisions to media and culture. Some youth (especially, for example, young people of color and/or LGBT youth) may see and experience their daily lives as "political" in ways that shape their views and their engagement in civic life."

Philanthropy - "Raising money is a concrete way for students to contribute to community or national efforts to address injustice. From organizing a bake sale around a local issue to fundraising on a larger scale for a national concern like racial disparities in the criminal justice system, raising money helps students feel like they are part of something bigger and backs the cause. Fundraisers can include selling items, auctions, entertainment, sponsoring events and more."2 

Advocacy - "This helps kids build writing skills, understand local, state, and national government, and allow them to voice their opinions about issues that affect them."3 Advocacy activities can also take many forms.  

Educate others - "As students learn about an issue they care about, their natural instinct is to share their new knowledge and insight with others. Encourage this by providing live and online opportunities for them to teach others, including their classmates, younger students and adults in their lives. This can include school assemblies, community forums, teach-ins, peer-to-peer programs and social media forums. Include opportunities to share the information in interesting ways (written, art, theatre, etc.) and they should also give other students the chance to explore their own thoughts and feelings about the topics."

Create a public awareness campaign that includes social media - "Creating signs and posters using art and photography can be very effective as can videos and live speeches; these are all useful skills that young people can learn. In recent years, the use of social media to raise public awareness has been largely driven by young people and is a useful vehicle for raising issues and effecting change. The use of blogs, social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, videos, memes and online petitions are just a few examples of how words travel fast online and can incite quick and effective action."5 

Advocate for legislation - "The primary advocates for the DREAM Act have been young people known as the DREAMers, who have a personal investment in the issue. With your students, provide opportunities for them to learn about the history and impact of legislative change like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Help them analyze proposed legislation in relation to their goals and assess the extent to which it will have an impact."

Do a survey about the issue and share the results - "Understanding what people think and why is helpful in bringing about social change. Students can learn more about public opinions on issues by participating in surveys themselves and also reading about them. They can also create their own surveys. Using paper surveys or online surveys, students can gain insight into how other students in their school or the larger community feel about an issue. This is useful in organizing others and addressing their concerns and needs; at the same time it builds math, critical thinking and interpersonal skills."7 

Write a letter to a company - "Students can reach out to companies or organizations that they feel have done something unfair or biased. This is something do-able that can make a difference. In crafting a well-written letter with evidence and a clear statement of what needs to change, students learn useful skills in persuasion and at the same time, it has a made a difference."8 

Get the press involved - "Help students understand that bringing publicity to their issue amplifies the message, gets more people concerned and potentially has a greater impact. They can write a press release, do an interview, write an op-ed in their local paper or invite a reporter to see what they are doing and write something about it."

Volunteer/ Community Service - "Youth can engage in community service on issues they care about. Serving the people who are directly impacted gives young people firsthand knowledge of the situation, deepens their understanding and builds empathy."10 

Protesting - "Marching in the streets enables students to express themselves and publicly convey what's happening while meeting and connecting with other people who feel passionate about the same issues. Demonstrations and protests can be uplifting and empowering and can help students feel like they are part of a larger movement. In preparing to attend a protest, have students consider what their goals are in attending the event and think through what message they want to convey. They can create posters, prepare songs or chants and practice symbolism that conveys their thoughts and feelings. They should consider whether they want to do individually or organize a group of students from their school to go together, make transportation arrangements and ensure that safety concerns are addressed."11 

2-11 Ibid

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