Every day, when Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School senior Viviana Hernandez drives home from school, she’s reminded of a persistent community problem: potholes. In the worst potholes, her car tire drops in, hits the pothole wall, and shakes the car as it struggles to move forward. It’s a constant annoyance that’s damaging her car, but where most people complain and often do nothing, Hernandez is hoping to fix the problem through a new opportunity in her Advanced Placement Government class.
Students in Joel Snyder’s AP Government class recently had the opportunity to pilot LawMaker, a website that provides users with a platform to voice their concerns to their government officials through the creation and promotion of new public policies. Amit Thakkar, a political consultant in California, and his partner Jon Brennan, a coder in New York, created the site to empower Americans.
"I believe the biggest thing we can teach anyone, is that there are countless ways to make a difference in the political world around you regardless of who you are."
LawMaker allows users to create a policy, share it widely via social media, rally support, and publicly send policy proposals to elected officials.
Their hope is that the website will serve as a reminder that every person in this country can be heard by our government. “I believe the biggest thing we can teach anyone, is that there are countless ways to make a difference in the political world around you regardless of who you are,” said Thakkar.
An Opportunity For Change
When Snyder heard about Thakkar’s project, he knew they had to collaborate. “The AP Government class is a group of exceptional seniors, who have a strong interest in understanding how government works and their relationship to it,” said Snyder.
Thakkar and Snyder kept in touch and figured out ways Snyder’s AP Government class could best use the platform. “Almost everything we do in class is through the lens of civic engagement and to the empowerment of my students,” said Snyder. “I think a lot about how to better support our students in feeling ownership over the political system, and I saw LawMaker as one of many ways to do that.”
During the fall, Thakkar gave students early access to the platform and guided them through the interface. Students researched issues within their communities, possible solutions, and from there, drafted policy proposals, working with Snyder to refine them.
At Green Dot, we know that fulfilling our mission to prepare students for leadership and life requires a relevant curriculum that encourages civic engagement. Snyder’s AP Government class is one of many examples of how we teach students about avenues for community impact, equipping students with the knowledge to understand and affect local, state and federal policy.
We believe it is a core part of our mission for students to know their rights, to understand the importance of voting, and to graduate from our schools with a concrete understanding of the systems and structures that affect their daily lives.
People often feel small and impotent in the system of government-- disenfranchised and helpless even. Government classes lift the veil, effectively helping students navigate the complexity of representational democracy. “I do this work because I think student empowerment, particularly for students who are traditionally disempowered, is so important,” said Snyder.
Discovering Their Power
For Hernandez, LawMaker has empowered her as both a student and a resident of Compton. “I was inspired to take up this cause because potholes are dangerous for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians,” recalled Hernandez. “When I began researching issues affecting the community of Compton, I learned that potholes are not just an issue on my street, but throughout my city.” Realizing that this was a widespread issue, Hernandez drafted a proposal that calls on Compton Mayor Aja Brown and other local officials to create a plan to make roads in Compton safer for drivers and pedestrians.
With their proposals submitted, students will begin going through the work of getting them noticed by their neighbors and eventually escalate these to the attention of legislators. “It would feel great to get some of the potholes in my city filled,” said Hernandez. “It would show others in my community that our voices have power and together we can create even more positive changes in Compton.”