connect / 2014

Practicing Good CITYzenship: Today’s Civic Action Project Builds Prosocial Connections for LA2050

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Constitutional Rights Foundation, CRF

High school students in the Civic Action Project practice civic skills and carry values of civic engagement and connectedness into LA2050.

Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

High school students in the Civic Action Project practice civic skills and carry values of civic engagement and connectedness into LA2050.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits all of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

We imagine a vibrant LA2050 where strong social connectedness joins citizens who work together to solve problems and improve communities. The LA2050 we envision is a place where civic engagement, voter participation and social trust are high because people understand the power of their voice and claim their right to be heard in our democracy. Research shows that education is one of strongest ways to overcome low levels of social trust and stimulate civic engagement. Thus, our idea for increasing social connectedness in LA2050 is to equip tomorrow’s voters with the skills and knowledge to lead positive change in their communities by expanding our Civic Action Project (CAP) into 50 additional high school classrooms in LA over the next year.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

A city’s youth are key allies in building a strong future. Third Century Greek philosopher Diogenes was one of the first to say this, and may have said it best when he said, “[t]he foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” This ancient and enduring truth motivates CRF’s work today. Modern research confirms that civic learning in school is critical to students’ becoming prepared and willing to contribute meaningfully to community and political life. Youth who participate in civic learning today gain the skills and experience to become leaders who will ensure that LA2050 is the most civically engaged region in the U.S. While our project takes an educational approach, our ultimate aim is a citywide increase in social connectedness across LA. We equip high schoolers near graduation with confidence, leadership skills and knowledge so that they are prepared to lead ripple-effect increases in civic engagement and positive change in their communities throughout LA. By teaching high school students skills for civic engagement, we give them the tools to actively build a stronger LA both now, and in the future. Civic Action Project (CAP) turns the content of the traditional, public school US Government class into a learning experience that embraces the ideal of connectivity on many levels. CAP connects students to their communities and to their own ideals by asking them to identify issues that matter to them, and to back up their beliefs with focused action. CAP students identify a policy-related issue in their community that they want to impact. Students work with peers, get feedback from their teacher, and reach out to local government to create real change around the issue of their choice. The issues CAP students choose to work on envision positive changes across a vast range of social issues including: environmental protection, child abuse, homelessness, public transportation, animal welfare, reproductive rights, cyberbullying, and traffic safety. Students learn the content of a traditional government course through the research they must do to determine the best way to tackle their real-world problem. 150 high school teachers in LA high schools currently teach CAP. By recruiting an additional 50 LA teachers, we will connect 5,000 more students to civic engagement via CAP each school year. CAP is a proven program with high teacher retention, so the benefits of our initiative would reach far beyond the 12 month grant timeline.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CONNECT today? In 2050?

Civic education today is an essential part of ensuring that the citizens of LA2050 are prepared and willing to engage in public life. Schools have a critical role to play in ensuring that every LA resident gets the type of civic learning opportunities that will empower him or her with the lifelong skills to contribute meaningfully to civic processes. Research backs up the positive impact that curriculum emphasizing civic engagement has on students’ attitudes about participating in democracy such as their level of political interest, and the strength of their intention to vote. Additionally, there is a positive correlation between exposure to civic education and attendance at a four-year college. The LA2050 Report notes that this positive cycle comes full circle as higher educational attainment is, in turn, linked to greater social connectedness. Conversely, students who do not get opportunities for civic learning in school are unlikely to come across such opportunities elsewhere. They are disproportionately less likely to vote or engage in public life in other ways. In 2005, a statewide coalition of non-profit organizations, business, and government-affiliated groups worked with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Annenberg Foundation, and the W.R. Hearst Foundation to conduct an indepth survey on the impact of civic education in California on graduating seniors. The study surveyed 2,366 high school seniors who had completed the 12th grade government course mandated by the California History/ Social Science Framework and Standards. Students were selected from a range of schools to reflect California’s socioeconomic differences and racial diversity, and the study took differences in students’ classroom experiences in government and civics into account. The findings demonstrated that students whose classroom experience included interactive learning, exposure to diversity, and opportunities to practice civic skills were increasingly likely to become adults who prioritize civic participation, are committed to informed voting, and confident in their political knowledge. Citizens with these attitudes have greater social and political trust. By engaging students in project-based learning and requiring collaboration between peers, CAP is a program that not only helps students build prosocial connections today by making real improvements in their communities, but also sets young citizens on a path towards meaningful lifelong civic participation.

Whom will your project benefit?

The LA2050 Report is clear that LA’s low “connectedness indicators are perhaps the most concrete (and disheartening) manifestation of LA’s inadequate education system.” By providing teachers with free, standards-aligned resources to facilitate better social studies education, CAP strikes at one of the root causes of low connectedness in LA. By giving students the opportunity to see the impact their volunteer work can have, CAP instils prosocial values like volunteerism, caring, and community involvement – values these students will carry into our future LA. This dual approach makes CAP a strong partner for LA2050’s strategy of raising LA2050’s connectedness indicators through improved educational outcomes that will generate greater civic engagement and social trust. Connectedness, the LA2050 Report notes, is fundamental to the human experience. Thus, by improving connectedness, implementing CAP on a broader scale stands to benefit all Angelenos, now and in 2050. The positive changes student volunteers have already created through CAP show the tremendous power of students to shape our communities for the better today. Recent CAP student achievements include: -Collaborating with the Public Works Department to improve city bus routes to increase efficiency and reduce traffic congestion; -Working with an LA City Council Member to orchestrate a South LA neighborhood clean-up; -Working within students’ own high-schools to craft policies that embody students’ voices on campus issues including discipline, tardy policies, student health issues, and recycling. These student quotes shows how CAP transforms students’ outlooks, preparing them to become adults with the skills and knowledge to make meaningful contributions to civic society and their communities: “I was surprised to realize that some problems and policies can be solved by students and there is no reason to sit and wait for change. Even students have the power to make a difference.” “I learned that it is important take opportunities to study governmental policy in the first person, as is provided through the completion of a Civic Action Project, so that students may understand the necessity for citizens to participate in their government. The government cannot take care of every aspect, as it has limited awareness. It is therefore the responsibility of the citizens to finally bring forth the changes they need. Experiencing such a civic action project gives students the experience to do so.”

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

CAP participants work on any policy-related issue that is important to them. This means that high school students in the program form their own connections throughout LA.

Past partners for student-initiated collaborations include:

-Bernard Parks, member of the LA City Council, representing the 8th District in South LA; -Public Works Department of the City of Bell Gardens; -Mayor of Bell Gardens, Daniel Crespo. -Roosevelt High School in East LA

LA City Hall, Dodger Stadium, and the California African American Museum have been past key collaborators for CAP by providing locations for CAP Showcases where students have shared their civic actions with the community and media.

CRF has also recently begun collaboration with Heal the Bay and the CA Coastal Commission to equip students with skills to address environmental concerns. In these partnerships, Heal the Bay and the Coastal Commission will provide students and teachers with scientifically accurate information and opportunities to study, observe, and interact with the LA coast. CRF will provide teacher trainings for environmental science teachers and other educators recruited by HtB and the Coastal Commission, and will provide classroom support for implementing CAP with a focus on environmental issues. Three factors critical to the success of these collaborations are as follows: (1) clear communication between organizations; (2) defined roles for each partner specific to that organization’s expertise – for CRF this is providing civic engagement education via CAP, for the environmental groups, this is providing their expertise on environmental stewardship and issues specific to our region; (3) mutual respect for and understanding of each partner’s mission.

These collaborations resulted from a middle school teacher and environmental advocate contacting CRF based on the strength of our reputation for balanced, impactful curricula that teach students how to respectfully engage with peers, opponents, and policymakers to effectively advocate for the issues they care about. The results of this interdisciplinary initiative have the potential to make LA2050 not only one of the most civically engaged regions in the U.S., but also to help ensure that the next generation of environmental stewards are prepared to defend our LA coastline. The future health of our water and of the many different communities that depend on this unique ecosystem depends on the civic engagement skills CAP students develop today.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Connect” metrics?

  • Rates of volunteerism
  • Voting rates by race
  • Number of public transit riders
  • Participation in neighborhood councils
  • Percentage of Angelenos that volunteer informally (Dream Metric)
  • Government responsiveness to residents’ needs (Dream Metric)
  • Attendance at public/open street gatherings (Dream Metric)
  • social, political, and interpersonal trust

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Civic Action Project provides quality instruction in government and social studies with an emphasis on participatory learning. Numerous studies, including the 2005 study we refer to in response to the prompt above (regarding how our proposal will make LA the best place to connect today and in 2050), have shown that this kind of curricular content has a demonstrable positive effect on students’ future behaviors and outlooks on civic engagement. Based on this research, we can confidently state that implementing CAP in 50 additional classrooms in the LA area will lead to increased volunteering, increased participation at public meetings and on neighborhood councils, as well as increased voter turnout despite statistical predictions based on race.

CRF has served youth in the LA area and across the nation for more than 50 years. Civic Action Project, with its strong online learning component, is obviously a newer addition to our program offerings. Since its founding, all of CRF’s mission-driven programs have emphasized nonpartisan civic education and the importance of participation in democracy. Collectively, these programs have changed the lives of more than one million Los Angeles students over the last half-century. CRF alumni have gone on to become judges, public servants, and business and community leaders. Because CAP is a younger sibling to existing CRF programs, we have yet to fully experience impact of this uniquely potent program

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

In the long-term our project will impact the LA2050 “CONNECT” metrics listed above. In the short-term, we will measure our success according to the following metrics:

1) Teacher evaluations to gauge the impact of CAP on their instructional practices in terms of implementing research-based practices on civic engagement.

2) Student evaluations to gauge the impact of CAP on their own civic learning and accomplishments in addressing their chosen community issue, as well as on teacher implementation of research-based practices.

3) Numbers of teachers and students who participate in this initiative will be tracked through attendance at teacher trainings, number of students each teacher reached, CAP Showcase attendance, and teacher and student registrations on the CAP website.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

  1. From our long institutional experience providing curricular resources to support Social Studies teachers, we have learned that engaging students in real-world problem solving, not just telling them how important it is to be civically involved, is critical to these students’ developing the skills to contribute meaningfully to civic processes, both in the short-term, and in the future as adult citizens. The CAP program lets students pursue this kind of problem solving and to learn experientially how local government works as they address a real-world issue. We have learned that in the context of the opportunity to take real action, students are eager to dive into the content of a civics/ government course, material that is stereotypically thought of as a snooze-fest. We hope to offer the CAP experience to as many LA students as we can to ensure that as many current and future Angelenos as possible may benefit from the real changes and improvements CAP participants achieve for their communities. Our experience has also taught us that it is important to convince teachers to let their students start on their CAP projects early in the course so that students have the time to actually make a difference.

  2. Public schools play an essential role in educating the next generation of citizens. The 2003 report sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York and CIRCLE: The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, “The Civic Mission of Schools” states that “[s]chools are the only institutions with the capacity and mandate to reach virtually every young person in the country. Of all institutions, schools are the most systematically and directly responsible for imparting citizen norms.” (Pg. 12). In response to these findings, CAP is a program designed for classrooms, although its true aim - fostering greater social connectedness via increased rates of volunteerism, voter turnout, and involvement in neighborhood and community governance – extends far beyond classroom walls.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Our idea is essentially scaling up a program that we already have in place. We have already tested the waters, so to speak, and have found that teacher and student interest is high, and the prosocial impact of students pursing the civic actions they chose for their CAP projects is impressive.

CRF developed CAP over the course of more than ten years of collaboration with high school Social Studies teachers, and has gained a network of more than 1200 CAP teachers nationwide, including 150 who teach in LA schools. Each of these LA teachers instructs roughly 100 students in different classes each term. This means that by recruiting 50 more LA teachers, we will implement our plan to empower 5,000 additional high school students to connect with peers and policy-makers to improve their communities though civic action.

We will recruit teachers via email outreach that emphasizes the newly enhanced CAP website, and highlights the expanded resources we are currently uploading. These resources will include both interactive and printable lesson plans, CAP Planners, teacher-created handouts, and a Civic Action Toolkit that helps students take action by offering tips on making phone calls, writing letters, and organizing events. Additionally, CAP continues to grow by word of mouth among LA teachers. We will use social media to encourage teachers who already follow CRF online to sign up to implement CAP, and we will tap into our rich existing in-school teacher network to further spread the word about CAP training opportunities.

In response to demand generated by our online and peer-to-peer teacher outreach, we will host CAP launch sessions for new teachers. Teachers receive $50 stipends to attend these afterschool sessions. We have the staff and experience to efficiently and effectively conduct this outreach and to run these trainings. Given that we already have 150 teachers in LA, if only one out of every three of these teachers successfully recruited a new CAP teacher at their school, that would provide the increase of 50 CAP teachers we propose.

In short, with funding from LA2050, our proposal is within the scope of both our organizational capacity and our institutional experience.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

1) Scheduling. Teachers are busy, and even the time commitment required to attend an after school CAP implementation training may be a barrier to some teachers’ choosing to implement CAP. We have found that offering $50.00 stipends to help teachers cover additional expenses (such as childcare, transportation, etc.) they may incur related to attending a CAP training helps increase attendance at training sessions and implementation of CAP. Additionally, to minimize schedule conflicts, we will poll teachers for their preferred training times, and coordinate our planned training sessions with LAUSD calendars.

2) Unequal access to technology. Not all classrooms in LAUSD have the technology to implement CAP and take advantage of the online program offerings. However, because CAP depends on critical thinking and real world action, we have taken steps to ensure that even classrooms with lower levels of access to technology can use CAP curriculum. Participating teachers can access printable versions of all our materials on the CAP website.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Community outreach