Only 42% of eligible voters in the US showed up to vote for the 2016 presidential election. While it may seem shockingly low, this year’s turnout was not an exception when you look at historical averages. In fact, a large population of disengaged citizens is actually pretty commonplace in the US, and can be traced directly to the lack of effective civics education within our school systems. Many schools offer government and civics courses, but rarely offer valuable lessons around how to run for office, testify, vote, or protest (e.g. how to utilize the democratic process as it was originally intended). So it makes sense that a student who has not been taught the value of civic participation will likely evolve into an apathetic voter as an adult.
“…a student who has not been taught the value of civic participation will likely evolve into an apathetic voter as an adult.”
To address this, I am in the process of building a Youth Advocacy Council in Delaware, which will equip students with the skills to advocate on their own behalf at school board meetings, and ideally down at legislative hall in Dover. The goal is not necessarily for the kids to secure any major policy wins (yet), but moreso to get them comfortable being involved in the democratic process at the local level.
That said, I realize there are many adults who have never been exposed to this process, so I am sharing an easily digestible, step by step process for testiyfing at your school board meetings:
1. Explain the specific policy you would like to change
For those of you that have never seen a school board’s policy manual, it is a behemoth. Thousands of policies are listed, and you can’t expect school board members to have them all memorized. Therefore, identify the specific policy you would like to repeal or amend.
Ex: “I would like to amend Sec. 3 clause 2, which currently states that teachers need to submit all grades before the end of the marking period.”
By defining it for the board, they are reminded of the purpose for that policy.
2. Explain the deficiencies of the current policy
Before explaining how you would like to change the policy, you need to let the school board members know why it is insufficient as it currently stands.
Ex: “This policy currently gives teachers too much time to submit grades. As a result, some students don’t have time to contest a grade or make an appeal until the marking period has already passed.”
3. Propose an amendment to the current policy
Make sure your suggestion matches the SMART goal format: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time sensitive. Then explain the benefits of changing it in this way.
Ex: “I propose amending the policy so that it reads “…teachers must submit all grades within 2 weeks after the assignment has been returned by the student.” This will hold teachers more accountable for submitting grades in a timely manner.
4. Address/ reject any counter claims
Before the school board has the opportunity to question you, make sure you address any possible arguments that could be made against your proposal.
Argument Example: Some people might think that teachers are inundated with assignments that need grading and that it’s unrealistic to expect them to produce grades in such a quick turnaround.
Counterargument: “But I have teachers who facilitate 5 separate classes and are able to submit grades within this timeframe.” (It’s always good to invite an expert, or in this case the teacher you are referring to, to testify with you).
5. Summarize your proposal but give them no way to opt out
Summary: Therefore, I request the school board amend Sec. 3 clause 2 so that it reads “…teachers must submit all grades within 2 weeks after the assignment has been returned by the student.”
No opt out: “Is it reasonable to expect this change to be made by the end of the month or at the very least before the beginning of the next school year?” (By making the assumption that the change will be enacted, it removes the possibility of the school board denying your proposal).
You can use this method for virtually any policy. Some will require more in depth research than others. But it’s imperative that we cultivate a sense of responsibility within students and adults to participate in this process, especially if we want to see a reversal in the way our society views civic involvement.