PHILADELPHIA – High school students engaged in a national civics project say that they don't have enough information on the impending war with Iraq to come to a consensus. As a result, students have called for more integration of current events into their studies.
The lack of discussion about current events is just one of the concerns mentioned as part of a youth-engagement initiative overseen by the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania involving 13,000 students from 20 high schools in the Philadelphia area.
Students have also asked for more subject choices, newer textbooks and better sex-education programs. They complain that there is not comprehensive sex education for younger teens yet there are programs to support teens who become parents.
"As students talk about these issues, their sense of themselves as citizens who have a responsibility to contribute to addressing those issues grows," said Harris Sokoloff, director of the University of Pennsylvania's School Study Council and principal investigator of the program.
Many students noted that this was the first time they have had their voices heard by school administration and that only those elected to school government usually have a voice in the decision-making process. They hope to have open dialogue with administrators as an option for all students in the future.
Another top priority among them is increasing and evenly distributing school funding. They would also like to see more social activities for teens in their communities.
The National High School Civic Engagement Initiative, or Project 540, was established by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The number 540 refers to the degrees required for one and a half revolutions of a circle, because when completed, the students should not end up where they started. Instead, they are expected to act on what they have learned in the process.
The project is being conducted in different sites across the country, encompassing approximately 100,000 high school students. The goal of the project is to find out what matters to young people and how engaged they are in civics issues. Organizers hope that the students will become active citizens who will help improve the schools and communities.
Note to editors and reporters: Feb. 17-21 is National Civic Education Week. Harris Sokoloff and Stacie Molnar-Main, project site coordinator, are available for interviews.