I read an interesting editorial this week from the founder of the Women’s Civic Forum in Pensacola, Florida. She wrote about her district, noting how far fewer people exercise their right to vote in non-presidential election years than in presidential election years. (And the irony is that the politicians elected during non-presidential election years often are those who have a greater impact on the direct community.)
Why is this? She believes, and I would have to agree, that it’s due to a lack of cultivation around civic engagement. At Earth Force, we strongly believe this cultivation begins with education. If we want to create civically engaged adults, we must nurture civic participation at a young age.
Civic participation draws on many skills like problem-solving, critical-thinking, teamwork, public speaking, understanding community resources, and perseverance. Skills like these aren’t always inherently taught in the classroom; it needs to be intentional.
We strive to create these opportunities for young people. Students who participate in Earth Force work to actively solve real environmental problems in their community. They naturally use the skills above to find innovative, effective, and sustainable solutions to pressing environmental challenges. They must work together to find common ground with classmates, school administration, and the community. They often are confronted with adversity (limited time or money, denial of approval from decision-makers, realizing the solution they selected isn’t addressing the root cause of the issue) and it’s imperative they understand that adversity is part of the process of civic engagement. It doesn’t mean they can’t still work to solve community issues; they just need to go about it differently.
Building a foundation for civic participation doesn’t have to be as grand as environmental problem-solving. It could be as simple as:
- Asking students to debate a relevant news issue that is of personal interest
- Encouraging students to connect with a community member who can serve as a resource around a topic that matters to them
- Creating peer-to-peer learning groups where students are encouraged to teach one another
Ultimately, we want to create a generation of young people who are passionately engaged in their community and understand the importance and value of their civic participation. In order to do this, we must start today.
Author: Kristen Mueller
Kristen Mueller leads national communications, creating engagement and excitement around Earth Force, and its partners’, hands on, minds on programming. Specializing in traditional media and social media relations, she brings youth voice and leadership to the forefront of the environmental education field.