Civics Day: A Movement of Youth Civic Engagement Across the U.S.

Watch: “Youth voices are the key to change for the future.”  Justice Paraiso-Caceres and GC Students Share Why Youth Voice Matters 

Generation Citizen students are leading in their communities by tackling head-on difficult issues that impact their everyday lives: pollution, bullying, gun violence, school funding and many more. At Civics Day, our end-of-semester showcase event, students present their action projects, sharing how they have researched the issue and collaborated with their classmates and key stakeholders to advocate for a solution.

This May, Generation Citizen hosted Civics Days across the United States in California, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, New York, Rhode Island and Texas. The events collectively hosted over 2,000 students, teachers, college volunteers, parents, community members, and leaders. Each Civics Day was a powerful opportunity to witness the impact of youth-led change.

A tremendous thank you to the students, teachers, volunteer Democracy Coaches, and sponsors who make Civics Day possible. Many thanks as well to our amazing school partners who hosted their own on-campus Civics Days and our Encore program Civics Day in the Bay Area.

Read on for more stories and highlights.


Bay Area Civics Day

Students gather in the State of California Building to kick off the day.

“We have the power to galvanize kids our age. Once one student speaks they can motivate a whole classroom and then a whole school. Youth voices are the key to change for the future.” 
Justice Paraiso-Caceres, Senior at Berkley High School

California Civics Day gathered students from Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco school districts. 33 issue projects in total were presented. Homelessness, Affordable Housing, Immigration, Gun Violence, Sexual Assault, and Pollution were among some of the most prominent issues covered. Speakers included Mayor of Berkeley, Jesse Arreguin, who is the first Latino to hold the position and the youngest in over a century, and Aparna Shah, Co-Executive Director of Mobilize the Immigrant Vote.

One of our English Language Development classes from REALM High School advocated for more on-campus resources for families who are affected by or fearful of ICE raids. The majority of these students recently arrived in this country. At first none of them wanted to attend or participate in Civics Day because they knew they would have to speak in front of an audience; in the end, seven of them came and by the end of the day were confidently discussing their project and ultimately won the Grassroots Change Award!

Abraham Lincoln High School students won the High School Overall Change Maker Award for their work on Water Pollution. These students recognized the disastrous impact of water waste and pollution on the Bay Area. Students organized a beach clean-up day to collect data, and lobbied for their school to participate in SF Water’s Adopt-A-Drain program. In collaboration with Supervisor Katy Tang’s office, students also supported the introduction of legislation that would ban plastic straws in San Francisco.

Gateway Middle School students won the Middle School Overall Change Maker Award for their work on  Sexual Assault and Harassment in San Francisco. The class organized to create a school-based task force, responsible for integrating sexual assault education into the school’s current health curriculum.

Read about all of Bay Area Civics Day award winners here and see pictures here.



Massachusetts Civics Day

Change Maker Award Winner from Lowell High School (center) with class who ran a Gun Buyback Program in Lowell and petitioned state representatives to pass the “Red Flag Bill” (H.3610).

“My favorite part of Civics Day is coming to the State House and seeing everyone’s ideas around the change they want to see in their community… it’s really awesome.” 
Gabriel Matnog, Malden High

Massachusetts Civics Day gathered over 200 students from 19 schools across the Boston area. Major focus areas included Gun Violence, Drug Abuse and Mental Health. Student Change Maker Safiya Almasarria from Lowell High School gave a powerful speech and shared her personal story. She now lives in Lowell and is a refugee from Iraq. Her class tackled gun control, partially because her school in Iraq had been attacked when she lived there.  She talked about how much she valued being able to use her voice to create change now.

Our Keynote speaker, Senate President Harriette Chandler, talked about how much she cares about MA’s Civics Bill, and how the students present gave her more inspiration to pass it. We found out later in the day that the MA Senate allocated $1.5 million towards the civic fund!

The Systemic Impact Award went to City on a Hill Dudley Square Charter School. Their teacher, Cate O’Connor, won the Teacher Change Maker Award. Students advocated for the passage of MA House Bill 4127: An Act to Promote Quality Physical Education. These students had been frequently told that phys ed classes at City on a Hill were impossible because the school has no gym, but they found that many schools in Boston rent space at local YMCAs and similar facilities, which gave real merit to their asks.

First time GC Teacher, Ms. O’Connor, mentioned, “I have been teaching civics for 3 years and this year had the most student engagement by far. Students were able to learn about their local government, interact with their community, and make meaningful change. They learned that civics isn’t just something you learn about in school, it is something you participate in—in the real world.”

See more pictures from Massachusetts Civics Day here.


New York Civics Day

Middle school students from I.S. 230 Magnet School for Civics in the Community and Bronx Academy of Letters get ready to present their action projects addressing sexual harassment and child abuse.

“I have always wanted to make a change but as a young minority it’s hard to gain the opportunity to speak up and make a difference within such a large system. Through GC I’ve found a way that I can truly contribute to this issue and make sure not only my voice is heard but that other LGBT+ kids are not silenced or neglected.”
Reed Cortorreal, High School Student Change Maker

New York Civics Day Day gathered 94 classrooms from 25 schools representing over 500 students, teachers, and guest judges.  Major focus areas included Homelessness, Gentrification, Police-Community Relations, Public Transportation (including pushing for a reduced fare for low-income people and those under the age of 25), and School Lunch (one class advocated for a City Council bill to ban processed foods in cafeterias).

Council Member Ritchie Torres‘ remarks inspired and energized. He underscored the importance of voting but also civic engagement at large, saying, “…the quality of one’s life and the qualities of one’s citizenship are bound together… question you need to ask yourself is what legacy will you leave behind, what impact will you have in repairing our broken world and improving lives around you?”

Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Jr. met with students from his district who presented projects on real issues they’re tackling in their community and also opened up the floor to answer questions from all students across the city. He answered many challenging questions about how he is working to pass legislation and improve quality of life in his district and the larger NYC community. Council Member Salamanca extended his time with the students to thoughtfully listen to and engage in their questions about their community.

Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters came to consensus on the focus issue of school segregation in New York City. The class identified the root cause as a flawed process for school applications and school assignment for students. In order to reach the goal of having NYC Department of Education adopt a school application process that prioritizes school integration the students organized phone banking, an email campaign and created a petition to reach their target decision maker New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres.

The Open-Mindedness Award went to Bronx Haven High School. Their teacher, Patrick Higgins, won the Teacher Change Maker Award. The class came to consensus on the focus issue of rising rent and advocated for the passage of Bill Int 0607-2018 at the City Council Level. This bill would require that where the city has developed a plan for creation or preservation of affordable housing, such a creation or preservation is in a manner that affirmatively further fair housing. To the surprise of the students, they were able to speak to their target decision maker, City Council Member Salamanca, on Civics Day to inform him of their issue and project.



Oklahoma Civics Day

Delaney Plunket, the Student Change Maker Award Recipient.

“We all stood for something and we all stood together.” 
Delaney Plunket, the Student Change Maker Award Recipient

Oklahoma Civics Day convened over 150 students, teachers, and guest judges. Immigration, School Safety, School Funding, Youth Hunger, Sex & Consent Education were some of the major issues tackled by students.

At U.S. Grant High School, which is approximately 80% Latino, projects ran the gamut from support to undocumented students to in-state tuition. A powerful project from this school focused on an ICE facility that is being planned blocks away from their school. The student speaker at the judge orientation was a super powerful voice on the subject: her mother had been deported to Mexico and tried to come back, and she spoke forcefully on the importance of DACA.

Students from this school also won the Overall Change Maker Award for their work on immigrants’ rights with a goal of amending the Oklahoma Promise legislation to include undocumented students. Representative Cyndi Munson, an OK Promise recipient, wanted to work on this legislation with students. Students met with Rep. Munson at Civics Day and set up a meeting with her to follow up over the summer to work on language and big ideas of their proposed amendment.

Students at Norman North High School received the Open Mindedness Award. The class wanted to fill the hunger gaps in their community over long school breaks. Students worked with staff at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and school staff to identify potential solutions such as transportation routes to deliver students food over long breaks.



Rhode Island Civics Day

Patricia Ducoudray, Student Leadership Board Member, speaking on the Community Leader Panel. Left: U.S. Senator Whitehouse. Right: Rhode Island City Councilor LFortune.

“Never be afraid to speak up about things that are bothering you because eventually it will bottle up inside and lead to worse things. Always remember that you control your adversity, and not to let it control you.”
Briana Roberts, Student Change Maker, 360 High School

Rhode Island Civics Day brought together classes of students from across the state, 41 projects from 16 schools, to share how they were making their voices heard on issues of personal significance.

Students started their day by participating in a Community Leader Q&A where they had the chance to ask any question they wanted to elected officials representing different levels and branches of government. In total, six government officials and representatives participated in the panels: U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse; Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea; U.S. Representative David Cicilline; State Representative Kenneth Marshall; Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune; and Town Manager Kate Michaud.

The Collaboration and Diversity Award went to West Broadway Middle School 8th Graders for their work on improving the quality of school lunch. Students in this class were really committed to deeply understanding the nature of their focus issue, speaking to many different experts and even shadowing the lunch workers to understand how food is prepared in their kitchen and what goals would be most feasible for their school.

Students at Roger Williams Middle School took home the Action Award for their project to improve their school reputation. Their goal was to change the narrative of Roger Williams from two different viewpoints; inside Providence Schools and in the Providence community. The students held a meeting with PPSD Communications Director Laura Hart to discuss how school narrative and reputation is created, and to identify actions they can take and that the school/district can take to improve their image. Over spring break, this class interviewed alumni of their MS and created a short documentary about their school. They hosted an assembly for a nearby elementary school to highlight the positive features of their school and dispel misconceptions. They also hosted a panel of current students, “I Am Roger Williams,” for the community, which was covered by the Providence Journal.



Texas Civics Day

Colorado River Collegiate Academy 9th graders advocate for improved mental health services for at-risk youth in Bastrop, TX.

“Working with Generation Citizen has been a meaningful experience, one that I am grateful to receive at such a young age. In providing students with the structure and means of civic engagement, they encourage youth to face the problems in their community”
Liz Epperson, Student Change Maker

Texas Civics Day brought together over 150 teachers, students, and guest judges at the State Capitol. With 20 classrooms represented, project topics varied widely: students advocated for improved school programming, access to parks and recycling facilities, and improved school finance and school safety policies.

The McCallum High School class advocated for student voice to be included in the creation of on-campus safety policies and procedures regarding gun violence. Following the Parkland shooting at the beginning of the semester, students were particularly driven to look at their own school community to assess how they can take that movement and make it personal. Over the course of the semester, they leveraged the two nationwide walkouts to bring attention to how their campus can better serve and protect McCallum students. Our Student Change Maker Award Winner, Liz Epperson, was also one of the student facilitators of a Central Texas town hall that was held in Austin with state and local officials.

Webb Middle School students won the Grassroots Change Award for their work on a community improvement initiatives for the St. John neighborhood. Students advocated for the City of Austin to provide funding through the Community Envisioning Project to fulfill a promise to reinvigorate the neighborhood through the repurposing of the old Home Depot lot into a public space. The class started a social media campaign, an on-campus petition, and met with the Principal to open a dialogue about getting the school to co-sponsor their initiative. They also created awareness videos specific to this issue to encourage community support.



San Diego Civics Day

Hoover High School, 10th grade Civics Day class representatives.

San Diego Civics Day was Generation Citizen’s first-ever remote programming Civics Day. It was an intimate event with 9 classes, 20 judges, a handful of honored guests and district leaders.

We had a powerful speech from one of our biggest San Diego GC Supporters, James Halliday, who is the Director of ARTS (A Reason to Survive).  A few students focused on homelessness, drawing from personal experiences, and advocated for a bill that would set up an Office of Homeless Youth and direct funding to the cause.  Other students focused on free bus passes for San Diego students in Title 1 schools.  Another class pushed for a city bill to ban plastic straws.

Multiple classes focused on school safety but Hoover High School 10th graders were recognized for their action on this issue. They tackled lack of school preparedness and intervention in the case of an active shooter or other threat by advocating for a portion of district funds to be reserved for school safety, specifically creating a prevention plan for students at risk of committing school violence.


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