Emily Larcher Shares Public Testimony on the Importance of Action Civics Education

On March 23, 2018, Generation Citizen NYC alumna, Emily Larcher, submitted public testimony to the New York City Council’s Education Committee. Here she explains her experience in a Generation Citizen class and how it empowered her to use her voice and become civically engaged after Generation Citizen. Read on!

Testimony by Emily Larcher

Freshman at Baruch College

March 23, 2018

New York City Council Education Committee Expense Budget Hearing

Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing. My name is Emily Larcher and I am currently a Freshman at Baruch College, an alumna of Generation Citizen’s Action Civics and Community Change Fellowship (CCF) programs and member of GC’s Student Leadership Board. I participated in Generation Citizen’s Action Civics program during the first semester of my senior year in my high school, The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, which is located in Councilmember Constantinidies District 22. That following summer, I participated in the fourth cohort of CCF as an intern in the office of then-Councilmember, now Speaker Corey Johnson. At present, I am a part of the GC’s Student Leadership Board, or SLB. In SLB, I work together with middle school and high school students from various GC locations, in order to brainstorm ways to elevate student’s voices in civics education.

GC is an education program designed to get civics education back into middle and high school classrooms in an action-oriented way and empower young leaders to exercise their civic duties and participate in civically engaged activities. Throughout the semester-long program, GC partners with schools to implement a twice weekly Action Civics curriculum during in-class time to educate middle and high school students about how to confront and take effective action to address community issues by engaging directly with politics.

Students start by debating what they would change if they were decision makers in their school, their city, or their state. Then students build consensus to choose one issue impacting their community to focus on addressing collectively. The students analyze the underlying root cause(s) of the agreed upon issue and then collaborate to develop and execute an action plan, which may involve lobbying elected officials to advance budgetary, legislative and/or policy solutions, or building a coalition. The program culminates with Civics Day, the end-of-semester student finale where students present their action projects at a science fair style exhibition event.

After much debate, the issue that my class decided to focus on was the issue of snow plowing in our community of Astoria, Queens. We felt that this was an issue that affected us all, since we would often see each other, as well as students from different schools struggling to get through icy sidewalks to school. Our primary objective in identifying this community issue was to ensure that students, as well as parents and elderly residents, were able to remain safe during the winter.

Subsequent to identifying our issue, we decided to research further and found several articles detailing the complains issued by Astoria residents in regards to snow-plow responses time. Once we had our evidence established, we then turned to our next step- contacting our local community officials. Aside from contacting our local Councilmember Costa Constantinides, we also contacted the Department of Sanitation, who visited our classroom. During the semester, my class was able to identify a community issue, research it and speak to local officials, and finally present our findings on Civics Day. Although I did not attend that Civics Day myself, I did attend one last December, and they are absolutely essential to showcasing all of the hard work our young leaders have done to effect change on issues impacting their community.

In retrospect, I felt that participating in Generation Citizen did have a profound impact on my classmates and me, especially in the way in which we became civically engaged. The end of 2016/beginning of 2017 proved to be a hectic time politically, since so many of my Muslim classmates had to endure watching the travel ban placed by Trump. As a result, we decided to participate in different protests both in Astoria and Manhattan. Even if we were not of voting age, Generation Citizen taught us that we can still be civically engaged, which my classmates and I did, when we advocated against the travel ban policy.

I feel that Generation Citizen debunks the misconception that you do need to be of a certain age in order to be engaged in politics. For instance, if you look at the students in Parkland, it is easy to see that anyone of any age can start a movement. As the younger generation, we do have so many social media outlets to our disposal, and we should be taught that they can be used to communicate important issues to others.

After my Generation Citizen experience in the classroom, I wanted to take my learning a step further. As a result, I applied for the CCF program and was placed as an intern in Councilmember Corey Johnson office during the summer of 2017,. The reason why I enjoyed this internship so much is that it gave me hands-on experience in figuring out the community issues that were a part of that District. During my time in that office, I also helped to produce a report detailing which playgrounds within District 3 needed the most funding for improvements.

As of today, I am currently participating in GC’s Student Leadership Board, which is a year long internship for Action Civics program alumni from each of GC’s sites to incorporate student voice into GC and the democracy education field, as well as support program alumni’s continued youth civic engagement. Each month, we participate in video chats in order to identify ways to expand GC’s accessibility to more locations and students. This experience has also shifted the manner in which I perceive Action Civics, because I realize how many areas might not have the opportunity to learn about this.

As I conclude this speech, I would like you all to keep in mind how important it is to encourage our youth to be civically engaged. Over this past year, I have had the pleasure to come across a number of children from various NYC schools, who have so many wonderful and nuanced ideas on how to help improve their own communities. These very children are our future, and we need to ensure that they have the knowledge and skills about how our democracy works, and ways in which they can participate in it.

Thank you all so much for this incredible opportunity to speak to you today. A special thank you to Generation Citizen for allowing me to voice my concerns and sentiments on this matter. Thank you so much to the Council Members and the community for listening to me. And as GC says, “Don’t talk about change. Lead it.”