Academic journal article Science Scope

Project Citizen: Students Practice Democratic Principles While Conducting Community Projects

Academic journal article Science Scope

Project Citizen: Students Practice Democratic Principles While Conducting Community Projects

Article excerpt

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On a Sunday morning, students and their teachers from rural and provincial Bolivian schools arrived in La Paz, the capital city of Bolivia, to showcase their Project Citizen portfolios to local residents, international delegations, and members of nonprofit organizations and government officials from the city. Most of the projects investigated socioeconomic and environmental problems afflicting students' communities. For example, a group of six eighth-grade students from a low-income public school in El Alto, the sister city of La Paz, presented a solution to the problem of garbage disposal in their community. The goal of their project was to craft a public policy statement in hopes of getting the needed support from local government to solve this issue. These students accepted citizenship responsibility, worked collaboratively, and learned to monitor public policy in their community.

What is Project Citizen?

Project Citizen is a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education's congressionally funded Center for Civic Education, which sponsors both domestic and international programs. The Center for Civic Education's Civitas International Programs pair U.S. states with countries around the world based on a variety of factors, including geographic similarities. In 2005, Wyoming and Bolivia were paired with one another as the Wyoming-Bolivia Partnership. Since then, both partners have shared cultural exchanges centered around the civic education program. Project Citizen encourages students to work collaboratively to identify what they believe to be a community problem. Through research and interviewing members of the community, students determine the scope of the problem and whether others share their concerns. Considering the problem from multiple perspectives allows students to formulate solutions. Students then select one or a combination of these solutions to present as their public policy proposal and action plan before a panel of evaluators, policy makers, and members of Educators for Democracy, a local nonprofit organization, and on some occasions, to students from public schools in Wyoming via digital videoconference. They conclude with an oral and graphic presentation to educators, local authorities, and other interested parties through a four-panel display (a panel for each step of the process, see Figure 1) and an accompanying portfolio notebook.

Schools from across the globe use Project Citizen as a curriculum promoting the acquisition of academic and life skills such as citizenship, problem solving, oral and written communication, and research. In the United States, the Project Citizen program has expanded to include schools in every state as well as American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Teachers interested in learning about Project Citizen could visit the Center for Civic Education's website to learn about its implementation in U.S. classrooms and around the world (www. civiced.org/index.php?page=program_information). In this approach, students use their own life experiences to construct their learning, exercise their democratic rights, interact with government, and make contributions to the well-being of their communities. Because of the cross-curricular nature of this curriculum, students work under the guidance of Project Citizen-trained social studies teachers and their colleagues from other subjects such as science and math. The project described in this article, allowed the social studies and science teachers to partner in light of the content being addressed (civic engagement and environmental issues). The project taps into environmental education (e.g., types of pollution) and typical physical and Earth science content (e.g., water cycle). In this case, the science teacher welcomed the garbage-disposal project as a means to teach content, such as the water cycle, and build real-life understanding about the effects of solid waste on air and water quality. …

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