A Semester in Review: New York City’s Fall 2016 Growth

A Semester in Review: New York City’s Fall 2016 Growth

It was a busy fall 2016 semester for the New York City team. This new team of dynamic women leaders jumped into the seat at a time of tremendous growth for the New York City program.  Thanks in large part to a half a million dollar investment from the New York City Council, the City site doubled its impact this semester – serving over 1,800 students in 70 classrooms – and increasing our roster of college volunteers, aka Democracy Coaches, who helped us partner with even more City public middle and high schools to deliver our action civics program.  

All of the team’s hard work culminated with our first Civics Day, Generation Citizen’s end of semester event to showcase our students’ advocacy projects, on Wednesday, December 14, 2016 at The Association of the Bar of the City of New York.  Civics Day is a multifaceted event with many stakeholders who play a part in ensuring the day is a success for our the key audience — our students — the young people our program was designed to empower.  

Civics Day, like our program this semester, was supersized with approximately:

  • 260 students representing over 68 classrooms;
  • 50 Democracy Coaches who taught the students during the fall semester, there to prepare the students for the big day;
  • a dozen experienced teachers; and a record 100 judges representing diverse industries volunteering their time to engage with the students about their semester advocacy projects.

Operating somewhat in the blind with respect to the actual contours of Civics Day, finding a space to accommodate over 400 people in New York City was our first major hurdle, definitely no small undertaking. We were so glad that the New York City Bar Association could accommodate us and the space was able to add a real sense of gravitas to the student advocacy projects.

With a location set, we turned to the various stakeholders we had to cater to on Civics Day – our guests, judges, student representatives, teachers, Democracy Coaches, and Chapter Directors. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of moving pieces. Bearing that in mind, however, Team NYC’s collective Type A personality meant that we systemized and created protocols for as many of the day’s functions as possible, ranging from how to best organize classes in the grand space, delegate tasks to our college volunteers, and assign rotations to judges.

Taking a step back, beginning in September 2016, Generation Citizen New York City’s classes began passionately pursuing change on issues that personally affect them — ranging from police-community relations to sexual assault. At Civics Day, the students recap the semester’s learning and action. Each class prepares a display (see picture below) and brief presentation describing their research, outreach to community members and public officials, and plans for furthering their action. Classes select 4 students to represent the class at Civics Day. For them it’s an opportunity to inspire one another, exchange learning with 400 peers and interested adults, and reinforce their civic motivation to continue being active citizens.

As Lonn Rosenthal, one of our teachers at the Careers in Sports High School, commented: “the GC program teaches students about civics in an active, concrete way, letting them interact with political leaders and government agencies outside of the classroom — and that’s how change is made.”

Civics Day is the culmination of a lot of hard work for our college volunteers too. Any teacher will tell you that one of the best parts about teaching is seeing your students finally “get it” or have those “lightbulb moments.” Civics Day is the lightbulb moment… amplified! Democracy Coaches have the chance to their see students embody Generation Citizen’s core values like action, collaboration and diversity. It is an opportunity to see their students advocate for themselves and the issues they care about, which was the goal of the semester from the beginning! And it isn’t just a proud moment for the Democracy Coaches, Chapter Directors also find the experience fulfilling.

Kelly Sullivan, a Fordham Chapter Director said, “Witnessing the DCs from our chapter engaging excitedly with their students and becoming motivated by all of the presentations makes the role of Chapter Director particularly special on Civics Day. Although we ourselves no longer have classrooms or our own students, we feel nostalgic about the projects our past students have presented, and understand the excitement, relief, and happiness that our Democracy Coaches feel.”

A semester’s worth of volunteering their time and investing their heart is rewarded at Civics Day and is just one of the many reasons the day is so special.

We were so honored to have New York City Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña as our keynote speaker and present her with the Civic Leader Changemaker award.

The Chancellor began her remarks by stating that “civics is very close to [her] heart.” Championing GC’s tagline, she encouraged students to “learn by doing” instead of just from books.  The team’s favorite quote from Chancellor Fariña’s remarks was when she encouraged students “to be the change agents you want others to be!”

After the Chancellor’s remarks, that’s when the main event of Civics Day began – the students’ presentations. Each Generation Citizen class strives to achieve systemic impact on a community issue students have decided to prioritize aftering building consensus through our advocacy hourglass framework. Rather than focusing on short-term fixes or raising awareness, Generation Citizen students work directly with government to advocate for long-lasting, systemic change. Civics Day’s ChangeMaker award winners are inspiring examples of students advocating to make change at the local level.

We had over 100 volunteer judges engage with the students to discuss their advocacy to address a plethora of local policy issues and their plans to continue their advocacy after completing GC’s class. This year, we successfully piloted a digital scoring system, so that judges could rate projects and share feedback with the students’ using their electronic device. Modernizing the scoring system made it somewhat easier for the Program Team to tabulate the judges scores and determine the ChangeMaker award recipients.

Back in the Meeting Hall for the award portion of the program, students from Williamsburg Collegiate, won the Middle School ChangeMaker award category. Frustrated that healthy food was not affordable in their neighborhood, students took action to increase the availability of nutritious foods at their school. To achieve this goal, students advocated in support of a City Council bill that would require school cafeterias to publicize their health inspection scores.

At Brooklyn Technical High School, where a 12th grade class won the High School ChangeMaker award category, students focused on reducing sexual harassment and assault in their neighborhood. Determining that one root cause of harassment and assault is a lack of education, students advocated for a City Council bill that would require consent education in all sexual education classes.

After the formal part of Civics Day ended, we took a moment to celebrate our Democracy Coaches and Chapter Directors for their hard work and dedication throughout the fall 2016 semester in a stress-free environment, with festive activities including cookie decorating, trivia games, and listening to familiar holiday tunes. We especially recognized our Chapter Directors, many of whom are college seniors, with gracious accolades and a personalized gift as a token of our appreciation for their years of service.

Still feeling the excitement of an energizing Civics Day, the New York City team ended our first semester by Monitoring and Evaluating the program – collecting data and feedback from our program stakeholders to ensure that our program is operating at the highest possible standard. From students, we collected data to measure growth in Generation Citizen’s three interest areas: Civic Knowledge, Civic Skills, and Civic Motivation; and from teachers and college volunteers, we solicited rigorous feedback on their semester experience to understand how we can continue to provide the best possible program quality. Stay tuned for the results of that analysis…

Juggling so many logistical and programmatic pieces of the Civics Day puzzle was no doubt a labor of love, but one well worth it once we were able to actually see the students’ projects and the enthusiasm they brought to their presentations. We all agreed, Civics Day was truly an inspiring and invigorating day! At least now we will have some institutional knowledge to help us plan for the spring 2017 edition.