Why This Government Class Was Recognized by the California Department of Education
Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School’s (APB) Government and Economics teacher, Joel Snyder, teaches a series of courses that encourage civic engagement and equips students with the knowledge to understand and affect local, state, and federal policy. This year, APB received the Civic Learning Award, a recognition by the California Department of Education awarded to schools that engage students in civic learning and help prepare the next generation of leaders to participate in our democracy.
Engagement Beyond Voting
In the past, Snyder’s government courses have helped students create and submit policy proposals to local officials. This year, Snyder and his students helped APB become a polling location during the 2018 midterm elections and over 30 students served as student poll workers.
“Since the 2016 election, nationally and statewide there has been a lot of talk around what a government class looks like, what it means to teach civics, and how we engage students in meaningful work,” said Snyder. His approach has always been to broaden the notion of civic engagement while serving the community in a thoughtful and meaningful way, and these conversations pushed him to expand the way he approached civic engagement.
One of the biggest barriers our students and their families face is access to political power. The lowest hanging fruit to surmount that barrier is voting, which is a great place to start, but not where Snyder would like engagement to end. “I wanted every student to feel like they weren’t just preparing to be voters, but preparing to be citizens in the broad sense of the word,” recalled Snyder. This was critical for Snyder because voting is not applicable to most of his students in the fall of their senior year due to age, and more importantly, many of his students may never be eligible voters due to their citizenship status.
Snyder designed projects to steep students in the issues and policies that would be impacted by local and national elections. Leading up to the midterm elections, every student in his government class was tasked with researching ballot initiatives or individual races on the ballot and made recommendations for the APB voting guide. Each student was also responsible for shepherding three voters through the election process and ensuring they turned out on election day. “It didn't matter if you were a voter or not, you had a role in the real action of the election,” said Snyder. “A lot of this is rooted in my distaste for just simulating democracy in the classroom. Students deserve more than simulation, but engagement in the real process.” Through this project, students learned first-hand that regardless of their age or status, they can create change and participate in our democracy.
This is just one of the ways Green Dot teachers make learning come alive for all students while equipping them with the necessary skills to navigate life, and positively impact their communities. Snyder and his students are already thinking about ways they can increase exposure to issues and increase voter turnout in the Florence-Firestone community in the future. “What would it mean to get a student face to face with every voter in the precinct and talk about some of the issues and encourage them to get out to vote?” asked Snyder. “My dream is for people to look at the data after an election and look at this community in South LA and say ‘well this must be a mistake because the voter turnout in this precinct is an aberration.’” With that kind of vision, we are assured that APB’s award is well-deserved!