The following is a guest post by Elizabeth Matto, Ph.D., Director, Youth Political Participation Program, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University. She can be contacted for additional information at ematto[at]rci.rutgers.edu.
As teacher-scholars of political and civic engagement, we know that by fostering our students’ political skills, attitudes, and knowledge, we heighten the likelihood that they’ll be active citizens. We also know that this sort of citizen education doesn’t always take place in the confines of the classroom but frequently occurs via such political learning activities as community-based projects. Through our program RU ReadyTM, we offer students the opportunity both to enhance their own appreciation of politics and to share this understanding with young people in our area.
RU ReadyTM is an effort designed to provide high school students with the tools and encouragement to be active members of their community. Administered in area public high schools, RU ReadyTM is meant to supplement the social studies curriculum in place and provide lessons in active citizenship. The project consists of a series of in-class workshops on such themes as the unique features of the Millennial Generation and and the forms of engagement available to young people and incorporates instructional techniques that have been demonstrated to be effective such as discussion, debate, and simulation.
The unique feature of RU ReadyTM is the role played by a team of Rutgers students who prepare the workshops, work directly with the high school students, and administer the sessions. Earning college credit, students’ responsibilities as part of the RU ReadyTM team include reviewing literature on youth political participation and civic education, engaging in group discussions, preparing their workshops, observing the classroom setting, and practicing their workshops in front of their peers and myself. After they’ve implemented their workshops in the high school classrooms, students reflect on their experiences in journals and make public presentations to faculty, staff, and supporters. Feedback from both college students administering RU ReadyTM and high schoolers experiencing the project has been consistently positive. Moreover, teachers have remarked not only on the value of the effort but the positive effects they’ve seen on students – including those who tend not to be participative in class. We’ve found RU ReadyTM to be a fresh and meaningful approach for infusing young people, both those in college and those college-bound, with the resources and the inclination to be active citizens.