Learning about Civic Engagement should be an essential element of public education in rural communities. This belief is embodied by the Rural Schools Collaborative's Grants in Place program, which strives to encourage and support student-centered efforts that strengthen the community fabric.
A 2017-18 Grants in Place award to Earle High School teacher Sandress McVay provided support for her Civics Understanding place-based education project. With funding provided by the Rural Schools Collaborative and its Arkansas Hub partner, the Rural Community Alliance, McVay's project promoted community awareness of the voting zones through the students' creation and public distribution of a brochure. Community members from each zone, plus the zone's elected representative, were contacted and asked to participate by the students residing in that zone.
Students participated in a myriad of activities related to the project. These included:
- class workshop activities (pictured below) that focused on drafting the local brochure
- presenting their project to the Earle City Council
- making a visit to the Crittenden County Courthouse in Marion, Arkansas
This kind of student engagement addresses an issue that is garnering more and more attention. The work of Generation Citizen, a national nonprofit, reflects this growing concern over the state of student interest in local governance. Generation Citizen works to "ensure that every student in the United States receives an effective action civics education, which provides them with the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in our democracy as active citizen." Unfortunately, civics education in schools has been impacted by budgetary and accountability issues, and Generation Citizen notes that "democracy depends on political participation, but young people are turning away from politics."
A commitment to place-based engagement has to potential to create a wide variety of instructional opportunities for students to interact with their respective communities. Not only does this kind of work give personal meaning to student learning, but it educates students on the necessity of local action while at the same time making public education more visible to a school district's constituents, a compelling issue in these times of budgetary uncertainty.
Thank you to Sandress McVay, Earle High School, and the Rural Community Alliance for making this good effort possible. This strong level of collaboration is a civics lesson in and of itself. Special thanks to Rural Community Alliance Delta Regional Director Lincoln Barnett for his assistance with this story.
Earle High School students brainstormed a number of ideas for their community brochure.
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