At Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School, social studies teacher Joel Snyder puts civic engagement at the core of his AP Government course, which he has used to enable students to engage in political discourse and kickstart change in their communities.
During fall 2021, Snyder and his high school government classes built the Voices of Florence-Firestone series, an initiative to demonstrate the power of local government and political engagement. Snyder noted that in his 20 years in the classroom, he has seen many students feel disempowered and overlooked by the political system. To counterbalance these ideas, he guided students as they corresponded with County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, State Senator Lena Gonzalez, and LAUSD board members Tanya Artis Franklin and Nick Melvoin through Voices of Florence-Firestone. In each encounter, students spoke with local government officials to learn how they served their communities and how each student could become a part of the process.
In October, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard was the most recent in-person speaker for Voices of Florence-Firestone. She retold a remarkable history of her personal educational experience and her service in government. Ánimo Pat Brown students asked her questions on Roybal-Allard’s accomplishments and tribulations as one of the first Mexican-American women in Congress.
During her conversation with the students, Roybal-Allard encouraged Snyder’s class and their peers to remain engaged in local elections and politics. “Do not fall into this trap of what’s the point? Why bother?” she said. “The power our community has is our power of the vote. You have to remember that the voters are the bosses. It’s your vote.”
As Voices of Florence-Firestone continues to add more speakers, Snyder is looking at students to think critically about community issues, such as voter registration, education, and engagement. “That was a really special experience, and [Royball-Allard] left my students with a real sense of agency and pride about what they can do in their future,” Snyder said.
Beyond the Classroom
Guest speakers have inspired students to see the world beyond the classroom and place themselves as civic actors to improve their communities.
Students like Senior Evelyn Chavez felt the Congresswoman’s discussion brought real insight into what it meant to participate in political discourse. “She empowered all of us to follow our dreams the same way that she did,” Chavez said.” And she taught us that, in a way, we can always participate in politics to make a difference.”
For students, making a change comes in many forms. Their involvement in Snyder’s classroom has led them to their own research through documentaries, buying books, and exploring resources to supplement their education. Some students have even shared their knowledge with families and friends to emphasize the importance of voting.
Senior Ari Martinez admitted that before Snyder’s AP Government class, he believed politics wasn’t worth his time. However, initiatives like Florence-Firestone have brought a newfound light to what he believed was a bleak cause.
“I was able to change my perspective regarding the power I have as a civilian,” Martinez said as he decided to register to vote. “I realized that the power of voting not only goes toward policies, but it also goes toward the people that can push policies.”
At Green Dot Public Schools California, we believe that all our students have the potential to grow academically and beyond the classroom. With the proper support and resources, our students can impact their communities and bring forth the change they want to see in their communities and beyond to influence their communities. Read How Locke Jumpstarts Student Trajectories at Annual Career Day