The Citizens Campaign, in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, has developed an innovative high school curriculum program called Leadership Civics. The course teaches students the value of civic engagement at the local level, and the leadership skills that will empower them to become active citizens in their communities. The course, designed for High School Juniors and Seniors, follows a structured curriculum that introduces students to the power centers of local government, citizens’ legal rights to participate and contribute to local decision-making, and how they, as regular citizens, can become community problem-solvers. Building on this knowledge of local governance through readings, discussions, and activities, students will then have an opportunity to practice these skills by taking on a leadership project that will propose an actual solution to an issue of local concern.
Throughout the course, students develop a host of skills related to leadership in government and politics. More generally, students improve their research and teamwork skills, as well as developing knowledge about their community and their ability to directly affect the world around them. With guidance from The Citizens Campaign, students interact with local officials, community members, and media representatives, thus creating viable networks through which their work and ideas may gain support. In this way, Leadership Civics gives students the opportunity to build their civic knowledge through actual participation in government and politics, and therefore takes the mystery out of political decision-making and sets a standard of success for our youth.
Leadership Civics Curriculum Outline
Unit 1: Introduction to Local Government – This unit introduces the structure of local government; the major players, their roles and responsibilities, and their relationship to the communities they serve.
Lesson 1: Introduction to Leadership Civics – Introduce students to the concept of empowerment and the importance of informed participation and civic responsibility, and hold activities to help them understand the important role young people play in improving their communities
Lesson 2: The Power Centers of Local Government – Provide an overview on the structure of local government, and introduce the 3 power centers: Mayor & Council, Planning Board, School Board
Lesson 3: The Hidden Power Center: Local Political Parties – Describe the nature of political parties in the United States, and explain the functions of local political parties and rights of party members. Explain why this is a 4th “hidden” power center and the important role it plays in politics, not only on local level but also at county, state, and national levels.
Lesson 4: Local Public Policy – Introduce the concept of public policy through discussions on how it is set and changed, decision-making process in local government, and how to identify and interpret local policy. Discuss how non-governmental/community organizations influence legislation and policies at the local level
Unit 2: Methods for Civic Participation – This unit introduces students to the concept of civic engagement and teaches them the vehicles for effective civic participation in their community. It includes a discussion of citizen rights with respect to local government and explores five methods of civic participation
Lesson 5: What Does Citizenship Mean? – Expose students to the concept of “civic engagement” and how it can contribute to the attainment of public good. Outline the foundations for society and basic rights and responsibilities of citizens, and familiarize students with the local voting process. Discuss the traditional ways citizens can participate in the political process at the local, state, or national level (e.g. registering to vote, attending meetings, contacting a representative, petitions, becoming involved in community organizations)
Lesson 6: Beyond the Ballot Box: Methods of Civic Engagement – Explain the legal rights of civic participation including OPRA, OPMA, and Citizen Service Act. Introduce the idea of “political power levers,” and the 5 Paths to Power: Citizen Legislator, Citizen Journalist, Citizen Innovator, Appointed Official, and Political Party Leader
Lesson 7: Citizen Legislator – Discuss the process of policy proposal: identifying a problem and a constructive solution, researching, building community support, making a respectful proposal, sustaining grassroots effort
Lesson 8: Citizen Journalist – Discuss how to become an effective citizen journalist: pick a topic, know your rights, responsible journalism, effective writing, getting published and getting social
Lesson 9: Citizen Innovator – Students learn how to recruit others towards a solutions oriented, no-blame dialogue on issues in the community and the basics of organizing a group of neighbors and friends to start addressing those problems with evidence-based problem-solving
Lesson 10: Political Party Leader – Discuss how to become a political party leader. Research local & county committees, find your election district, check for vacancies, know qualifications, legal rights and power; become a committee person; get active within the party
Lesson 11: Appointed Official – Discuss the process of getting appointed: decide where to serve, apply to serve, best practices to get appointed, how to make the most of an appointment
Unit 3: Becoming a Civic Leader - This unit centers around the development and implementation of the Student Policy Project and prepares students to identify and address community needs. The project provides students with a greater understanding on workings of local government, and empowers students to become active, informed citizens by exercising their rights to access and influence local decision-making bodies
Lesson 12: Issue Identification – Students propose and justify new local or state governmental policies on a variety of contemporary issues, work in teams to identify common-purpose issues, and research how your town or city has addressed the issue, and how other cities have addressed the issue. As a class, they will choose a priority issue
Lesson 13: The Responsible Proposal – Assign group tasks, including research, community outreach, citizen journalism, and drafting a proposal. Apply evidence-based problem-solving skills to the identified local or issue by researching cost-effective, best-practice solutions. As a team, draft a constructive, reasoned solution in a persuasive writing piece
Lesson 14: The Respectful Presentation – Students will present their policy proposal before a public entity, i.e. one of the power centers, parent group, community members, etc., and advocate for its adoption using no-blame political strategy, drawing on a variety of community resources and various methods of engagement to ensure the project’s successful implementation