Civic Engagement Is an Ongoing Activity

Where did summer go? Whether you find yourself teaching from home or returning to school in person, September means back to school. It also means election season. As teachers, school librarians play a unique role in connecting student learning to civic life long before learners are eligible to vote.

Like all plans for this school year, what that looks like in practice may be a little different than previous years. But know that there are resources and opportunities to engage your entire learning community, even from afar. School librarians can continue to educate, inform, and engage existing, new, and future voters of all ages.

With school being virtual for many of us, and a lot of public libraries open for curbside pickup only, I (Amanda) distributed voter registration forms when my high school students picked up textbooks and supplies. On National Voter Registration Day, September 22, I will host a virtual voter registration drive in collaboration with the Davidson County election commission to provide students with all the information they need to register to vote and learn about the voting process.

Even though most high schools will have only a small percentage of students eligible to vote in November, all school librarians can implement programs to promote civic engagement. Why not have a mock election? Many secretaries of state have a statewide mock election; check out your state for details. A mock election provides many opportunities for students to learn about the election process. First, you can ask elected officials to talk to students as part of the mock election–they are often very happy to do so! Second, you can make the mock election process similar to the experience of actual voters; for example, you can have “absentee ballots” for students who may be at school virtually. Furthermore, you can help students become more knowledgeable about candidate positions on issues by helping students research candidates and their positions, perhaps in collaboration with teachers. At Hume-Fogg, our student political organizations put together candidate profiles for the mock election, and this process has led to some students even interning for actual political campaigns.

Use specific dates on the calendar to host conversations and activities with your learning community, with classes, student groups, or parents. Here are some general resources and specific opportunities to get you started or add to your mix.

  • September 17, National Constitution Day. Celebrate the anniversary of the signing of our founding document. The National Constitution Center offers instructional materials and a wealth of resources that can be used throughout the year, with an emphasis on the constitutional principles of democratic engagement. (See an earlier KQ post for additional information.)
  • September 22, National Voter Registration Day. Sign up to be an official partner or use their toolkit to raise awareness about voter registration. NVRD has created new tools for voter registration during the pandemic.
  • September 30,* Census completion deadline. Schools have a vested interest in ensuring a complete count in their communities. The Census Bureau provides information and activities that can help you engage all stakeholders.
  • Voter registration deadlines. Dates vary by state, and with vote-by-mail as an expanded option in many states, there may be a separate deadline for requesting a mail-in ballot. The League of Women Voters has developed a comprehensive resource with all of this information.

Keep the conversations going! A recent study from Tufts University shows that civic engagement opportunities in school lead to increased civic participation in adulthood. Although the census will wrap up and election day will be here and gone quickly, civic engagement is an ongoing activity.

*Note: The current Census deadline of September 30 is being challenged in federal court and may be extended to October 31, 2020. Watch for information.

Author: Megan Cusick and Amanda Smithfield

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

Tags: , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Dear Megan and Amanda,
    Thank you for your post promoting civic education this fall and as an on-going instructional practice.

    This fall, the Teacher Librarian Division of the Arizona Library Association is sponsoring a “Dear Arizona Voter Writing Contest” to encourage classroom-library collaboration focused on understanding and exercising the right to vote.

    KQ readers can read about the contest and Michelle Luhtala’s “School Librarians Can Save Democracy” webinar on my blog:

  2. Another AASL member, Connie Williams, and I put our heads together and wrote a book to help school librarians teach students life skills that would serve them well after they left high school. Part of it was to prepare them to become good citizens and vote beginning in kindergarten and increasing through high school when that becomes a a necessity, not just a possibility for those 18-year-old students. One example was a senior who took his friends to city hall as a group to register to vote.

    Citizenship and advocacy start in pre-school you are lucky enough to have a pre-school in your building, and they continue with increasing importance, teaching, and experiencing throughout their school years. Teachers have little time to do many things that a librarian can do in teaching life literacy skills.

    Blanche Woolls
    Past President AASL
    Retired Professor
    Former school librarian

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