At Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School, students don’t learn about government, they act on it. This past March, the the Chief Justice of California Courts and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction honored the high-performing high school with a Civic Learning Award for the second year in a row. This award recognizes schools’ efforts to engage students in civic learning.
A panel of experts from education and legal backgrounds evaluated each school on the following criteria: student participation, availability of civic-based classes and clubs, and out-of-class activities on the school’s formal curriculum.
Success Begins With Action
Joel Snyder has taught Government at Ánimo Pat Brown for over 11 years, and during each of those years he has utilized action-based civics to promote civic engagement with his students. “The best way to learn about government is to do government,” Snyder said. “The class becomes more engaging and meaningful for students, when we root our school in our local community, and build stronger connections.”
Snyder and his students look for opportunities to directly engage with the Florence-Graham community. In 2018, during the midterm elections, Snyder and his government students helped Ánimo Pat Brown become a polling place for their neighborhood, and over 30 students served as poll workers. The government teacher has also guided students as they submitted Policy Proposals to local lawmakers.
In January of 2020, seven students in Snyder’s government classes traveled to Sacramento to meet with public officials . These students shared their experiences participating in civic life, spoke about important issues in their neighborhoods, and explained their plans to empower their peers and community members to facilitate change locally.
Adriana Ramos, a 12th grade student in Synder’s Advanced Placement (AP) Government class, was among those seven students. “After going to Sacramento and reflecting on this class, I really had a chance to experience the importance of everyone’s role in government.” On campus, Adriana participates in the Ánimo Pat Brown Democracy Lab, which is a student-led initiative geared toward community and voter mobilization in the Florence-Firestone and Florence-Graham neighborhoods. In collaboration with United Parents and Students,
The Democracy Lab has registered hundreds of voters for the general and midterm elections.This past winter, during the Democratic presidential primary, students in the APB Democracy Lab reached out to over 250 neighborhood voters to make sure they were registered. That documented group had an 80 percent voter turnout.
“Before going to Sacramento—and before taking this class—my views on politics and government were different. I come from a household where my parents didn’t go to college. What I knew about the government is what they criticized about it,” Ramos said. “But now I’ve learned that the way the government works is how much we put in, because our voice matters.”
While Ramos initially planned on pursuing a career in science, she now feels driven to study political science after high school. “In the United States government, there are not a lot of people like me: A woman and a Latina. Knowing what I know now, I feel like my voice can bring more power to the people like me.”
On a daily basis, Snyder thinks about how he can improve this civics program for his students and the families in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood. “We’re thinking directly about issues in our community at this moment. Schools are real anchors of community, particular in a low-income area where there aren’t that many institutional anchors,” Snyder said. He builds his program around encouraging citizens—both students and their parents—to vote and pursue civic knowledge that will sustain them long after they graduate.
Snyder rests his success on a supportive group of administrators, students, and families. Together, they work to increase voter turnout and civic awareness in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood.
As for future plans, Snyder hopes to expand the APB Democracy Lab to increase paid internships, jumpstart a speaker series, and increase exposure to potential jobs in law and government.
Through a dedicated group of staff and teachers, Green Dot Public Schools equips its students with the tools to learn as they foster a passion for excellence and personal responsibility. Our schools ensure students graduate prepared for the rigors of college and equipped with civic competencies to address complex challenges.