Reflections on our First West Coast Semester

As we prepare to kick off the spring semester in the Bay Area, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the past semester. This fall was Generation Citizen’s first semester on the West Coast; it was an exciting one, full of new partnerships, lots of learning and truly inspirational young people. College students from City College of San Francisco, San Francisco State, UC Berkeley, and the University of San Francisco worked with 375 secondary students in 18 classes at 6 schools in San Francisco and 4 schools in Oakland. Classes worked on issues ranging from neighborhood safety to gun violence, and from drug abuse to school funding. In mid-December, students came together at City Hall in Oakland for our end-of-semester Civics Day, to share their projects with our community-leader judges, and hear from keynote speaker, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Below are a few details of the projects presented by our two Change Maker Award winning (based on judges’ scores) classes from our first Civics Day.

Paul Revere Middle School – Muni Safety

Many of the 8th graders in one of our partner classes at Paul Revere regularly ride the 14L and 8X bus lines, and they all agreed that safety on both bus lines was a serious concern for them. To tackle this issue, they reached out to influential community members in order to connect with the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) Director of Transportation, Ed Reiskin to propose their solution to address the lack of security on the back doors of both bus lines. These 8th graders successfully held an assembly, distributed information to community members, collected signatures on a petition from people riding on the 14L and 8X, and submitted ideas to the SFMTA’s Citizens’ Action Committee. Ultimately, they were able to secure a meeting with Ed Reiskin, who agreed to assign more security to the targeted bus lines.

Coliseum College Prep Academy – School Supplies

At the start of the semester, students at Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA) quickly identified a lack of school supplies as a serious issue affecting their education. They didn’t have white board markers to use in the classroom, the school couldn’t replace the broken bulb in their classroom projector, and they realized that their teacher was spending her own money to provide students with necessary resources like paper and pens. After doing some research, they realized that there was an unequal distribution of money to schools within Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) due to different levels of property tax rates and parent fundraising, and that CCPA was one of many public schools in Oakland suffering from a lack of resources. To tackle this problem, students at CCPA decided to raise supplies for their own school and to raise awareness on the school district level. They reached out to their principal and OUSD Superintendent Gary Yee with tactics that included letter-writing and poster-making campaigns, circulating a petition for signatures, and speaking to the Superintendent at a community meeting. They gained permission from CCPA’s Principal to stage a supply drive at the school and they were also were able to speak directly to OUSD Superintendent Yee to ask him for support on this issue. Students in this class also had the unique opportunity to share details of their work with Delaware Governor Markell, who encouraged their engagement and gave them advice on next steps to further their work.

I can’t say that our first semester in here in the Bay Area was perfect—we’ve learned a lot, and we’re working hard to improve. (If you have suggestions, feel free to e-mail me or share them in the comments!) But I’m thrilled about the fact that we’re up and running, and that we were able to support so many students to take what were—for many—their first steps in becoming truly engaged citizens. It’s been an amazing experience watching students use the Generation Citizen approach to advocacy, and now more than ever, it’s clear the important role we play in helping young people make themselves heard. For me, one memory from Civics Day captures it perfectly: serving as a judge, Mayor Quan stopped by the CCPA project on school supplies. Understandably, she had a lot of questions for the students, and also understandably, I was a bit nervous to hear their responses. Here were a few high school students, talking to the Mayor of their city about school budgets. As it turns out, I had no need to be nervous. These students had worked diligently all semester to become experts, to prepare for this moment. Their interaction with this powerful elected official was impressive; they had points to make, they had practiced, and they weren’t intimidated. This is exactly the type of experience that want our students to have, and exactly the level of confidence and efficacy we want them to build over the course of the semester.

I am humbled by our awesome young people, and I cannot wait to witness the empowering experiences the coming semesters hold for Generation Citizen students here in the Bay Area.

– Danielle Love, Bay Area Site Director

Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.