Students from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District dove headfirst into a world of information about civics, democracy and elections last week at a launch event for CMSD’s Civics 2.0 program.
Civics 2.0 is now in its second year at CMSD. Through this, students were trained to work in Cuyahoga County polling places, created voter registration drives, hosted events with their teacher-counsellors, and much more.
The program held a launch event at the Western Reserve Historical Society last week, where students learned about the 2022 election and found strategies to counter narratives that voting didn’t matter, depending on the program material.
Program creator Gayle Gadison said the goal of the project was to engage students in the civic process by participating in it themselves. Students who participate also receive a $500 gift card for each term of work.
“It’s authentic learning at its best, because they’re paid to do the work,” Gadison said. “And so because of that, they learn to budget their money, and they learn that this work has value.”
The program has counselors in each school who coordinate each student’s projects. Mary Brown, a science educator at the John Marshall School of Engineering, is a counselor who worked with students last year and will continue to do so this year.
“Last year, my students learned the importance of advocacy,” Brown said.
To that end, John Marshall students registered 30 people to vote last year and hosted a panel where students heard from local leaders like several members of the Cleveland City Council and were able to ask questions of the leaders, a Brown said.
“It’s a great way to inspire our students to care about the community, be service-minded, and see themselves as leaders,” she said. “And that’s huge.”
Gadison said that prior to Civics 2.0, voter registration efforts at CMSD were primarily carried out by outside parties who worked with CMSD to enter schools and register students of legal age, with varying levels of success.
Zachary Zlocki, a social studies teacher at New Tech West High School, said the program allows students to try new things.
“I’m a government teacher, so they understand politics, elections and government better and hopefully engage much more deeply in the process,” he said.
Some students participated in the Youth and Government program at the YMCA in Columbus last year and will do so again this year, where they will learn how the state house operates through a fictionalized version of it.
Zlocki said a few of his students had had their bills passed by the student legislature under this program, and one had even been signed by the student version of the governor. The proposal was for Ohio to create a bottle buy-back program at local stores, to promote recycling, he said.
The program also compensates students for creating civics-related content for Unsilenced Voices of CMSD, a student blog.
“I hope Civics 2.0 becomes a movement because what I know is that if young people are passionate enough…once they’re inspired, there’s no stopping them,” Gadison said.
Prior to joining Ideastream Public Media, Conor Morris was paid through the Civics 2.0 program to run the Unsilenced Voices of CMSD blog over the summer. He now volunteers to manage the blog and is not paid for this work.