In an academic year module, students will continue to return to campus from September through May for civic work. Some programs currently invite students back for individual events, reunions, and college counseling. Yale has students return monthly during the academic year to work on a civic engagement project. The Columbia model, outlined below, is more robust than most programs can manage, but the ideas behind an action civics curriculum such as this may be adaptable to suit your needs.
In the Columbia Freedom & Citizenship program students commit to returning to campus twice monthly from September to May to work on an actions civic project of their choice. In the civic curriculum students practice skills for professional, college, and civic success while learning about a topic that interests them. Students cultivate leadership skills in developing their own “guide to civic action” that instructs their peers how they can make a difference on their chosen issue. This curriculum requires a substantial commitment from students, teaching assistants, and the program manager throughout the academic year. Columbia has found that meeting less than twice a month led to a steep reduction in attendance, and though the majority of meetings are well attended, sometimes only two out of eight students will attend. Students and teaching assistants find the work to be incredibly rewarding, and alumni/ae have indicated a strong connection between their preparations in Freedom & Citizenship and their subsequent engagement on their college campuses.
When students apply to Columbia’s program they indicate which civic topics interest them. Academic TAs then choose six topics based on their own interests and the students’ choices. During orientation each student gives a 5 minute presentation on why their topic is relevant and significant. Students are assigned projects based on their after-school availability during the academic year and their interest in the topics. Academic TAs work with the same group of students in their daily tutorial sessions and their civic projects throughout the academic year. The academic year schedule is then set around high school and college closures, with about 16 meetings set per year.
During the fall semester students spend much of the time researching their individual topics and understanding the nature of political engagement. During the spring semester students figure out what they and their peers could do to make a difference on their issue and develop a project that guides their peers in taking that action. While the students present their final call to action and reflect on their year’s work at the annual Civic Night in May, the curriculum is designed so that the civic practice students gain during the meetings is more important than any final project. For instance, students practice research literacy and then prepare a fact sheet about the topic, practice formal communication when reaching out to activists on their topic they would like to interview, and practice leadership in meetings when they organize themselves to attend a local event on their issue. Some of those achievements will be apparent in their final presentation but others will not.
Academic TAs are responsible for communicating with students between meetings to confirm attendance and then run the meetings based on the pre-written lesson plans. TAs are paid for four hours of meeting time and four hours of prep time each month.