University, high school work together to teach politics

Students at 21 D.C.-area high schools are currently preparing for a post-mayoral election civics fair, after studying the Washington mayoral race this semester.

GW School of Media and Public Affairs assistant professor Sean Aday heads the D.C. chapter of the Student Voices program, which was started to inform teenagers of their voting rights and help them anticipate voting before they turn 18.

“Many young American adults do not believe and the importance of politics and therefore do not go through the voting process,” Aday said. “It is important for these students to recognize that voting is an honor, something that many people around the world do not have the privilege.”

Student Voices, a national program that was started in 1999 and has been introduced in eight cities, uses a curriculum-based project in which high school seniors attempt to teach their peers the importance of being interested in politics.

The program involves 32 classrooms in 21 high schools around D.C., including public, private and charter schools.

At the beginning of the year Aday applied for a grant from the Annenberg foundation, which was established in1989 to “advance the public well-being through improved communication,” according to the foundation’s Web site.

He received a $289,000 grant to start the project, which was organized in time for the mayoral election. Aday teaches Areas of Expertise: Political Communication; The Role of the Press in the Political Process and Society; History of the Press and Politics; and Media Effects.

“This project is by far and away a most rewarding research project,” Aday said. “It fits the general interest study of politics, communication and media.”

The civics fair will take place Dec. 17 at the World Bank building.
Student Voices Project Manager Barbara Frank said there will be 20 projects presented at the fair, with one to two classrooms sharing each project. She said 4 to 7 judges review, and cash prizes are awarded.

But she said no further details about the fair could be disclosed.

The program involved high school student participation in a mayoral debate at Jack Morton Auditorium in the MPA building in Oct. 16 which included candidates Carol Schwartz, Tricia Kinch, Sam Manuel and D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams.

Questions were received from a panel of high school students participating in the Student Voices Program.

“At the debate, the panel of students asked far more substantive based issue questions than the reporters themselves did,” Aday said. “It is so great to empower the students to educate themselves about these issues.”

Many questions were based around education and drug-related issues.

Lisa Rauschart, the teacher involved in Student Voices at Georgetown Day School, organizes meetings twice a week during the students’ lunch periods. The group usually watches a small clip about a current issue in the city, followed by discussion and debate.

“The students are able to discuss the problems in city with their peers which allows them to become more interested and involved in politics,” Rauschart said.

There are 24 freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors involved in the club at Georgetown Day.

Glenn Isaac, a sophomore in the club, said he enjoys attending meetings.

“The club has allowed me to learn more about politics and become more aware of the things that are going around in D.C, we are able to pinpoint what problems need to be solved around the city,” Isaac said.

Georgetown Day senior Alejandro Golding said the objective of the club is to promote a better understanding of politics and the election.

“Student Voices is a really good foundation in reinvigorating how everyone feels about politics, making other students more interested than they normally would be,” Golding said. “Some (adults) think that since we don’t have senators, politics is not a major issue but it’s important to recognize who is running our district.”

Although the program will not take place next year because there is no mayoral election, Aday said he hopes the program will continue during future elections.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.