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Evaluation: Youth-Centered Civics Initiatives Strengthen Communities

The Institute for Citizens & Scholars (C&S) is fundamentally rethinking how we prepare young people to be productive lifelong citizens. To do so, we must think beyond the high school civics class and consider all the places and ways young people build their civic capacities. National and state education accountability metrics that focus on math, science and ELA leave little time during the school day for civic learning or social emotional learning. But young people are eager to engage civically in their communities, and this engagement provides a place for deeper civic learning

C&S recognizes a unique opportunity to leverage the “out-of-school space” to help young people grow their civic skills and interact with people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs. This civic learning can take place on field trips, on the sports field, after school in community service groups, and at summer camp. Out-of-school activities are especially valuable in under-resourced communities, where parents often lack the capacity to provide their children with these sorts of experiences.

Last summer, with the pandemic as our backdrop, C&S was eager to test our hypothesis that significant civic learning happens outside of the classroom, and, for that civic learning to be deep and equitable, young people need to be at the table and play a substantial role in designing those learning experiences.

We launched the Civic Spring Project to provide six youth-centered organizations across the United States with grants to launch projects addressing pandemic-related challenges facing their communities, and to promote local civic engagement during the 2020 general election. Through our support of each grantee, C&S also sought to address the gaps in our understanding of civic learning, reduce barriers to equitable civic access, and build sustainability in the civic engagement space (more on our goals).             

C&S is pleased to present an evaluation of the Civic Spring Project, which confirms the incredible opportunity that exists to bolster civic learning and to expand equity in out of school spaces.

The evaluation was conducted by The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), part of Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. As the evaluation partner, the CIRCLE team assessed the overall reach, depth, sustainability, and impacts of the Civic Spring initiative. The evaluators triangulated across diverse qualitative and quantitative data to identify findings, key lessons learned, and implications for future civic projects.

Highlights from the evaluation:

Meaningful civic learning takes place outside of the formal school setting.

Program participants gained diverse types of civic skills. They reported strengthened their social-emotional learning capacities, their abilities to navigate both civic institutions and their mental health, and their strategies for working with stakeholders across lines of difference.

Youth-centered civic initiatives have broad and deep community impact, including advocating for policy change to city leaders, securing seats for youth on local government committees, holding voter registration events, and engaging local news media.

The evaluators note that the organizations participating in the Civic Spring project showed their communities what informed, passionate, and dedicated young people can do, especially when they are given the resources to reach their full potential.

“I’m confident that I helped to, on a wide scale, teach top elected officials and other leaders, that young people are smart, serious and paying attention. I don’t think they’ll ignore us a second time.” – Minnesota Young Champions program participant

View the full evaluations and recommendations

Upcoming Webinar: After School Alliance

Tuesday June 22

We invite you to join an interactive webinar on “Youth-Centered Civics Initiatives to Strengthen Communities” co-hosted by Citizens & Scholars, Afterschool Alliance and Civic Spring grantee Kentucky Student Voice Team on Tuesday June 22 from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. EST.  In this panel event, we’ll further explore the variety of contexts in which civic learning can occur and—through the lens of CIRCLE’s evaluators and two CSP grantees—dig deeper on what it means to become a youth-led organization.  Discussions will feature the unique experiences of:

  • The KYStuVoice team (from their start as a CSP grantee through the transformation of their structure and operations to become an independent youth-led organization);
  • CIRCLE’s evaluation team (on their greatest takeaways from the report and recommendations for fostering the equitable civic engagement of youth);
  • CSP facilitators (reflections on CSP and the value of offering platforms for youth to develop, apply and strengthen civic skills outside of school);
  • And others!

After the panel, we’ll open the floor to hear from the audience how this field can create and sustain equitable spaces that fortify youth power to achieve lasting reach, depth and sustainability in communities across the country. Your feedback will be invaluable as we design a case study and roadmap to be released this fall for the out of-school time field to build capacity and support the creation of projects for youth, by youth.

Please use this link to register and join us in this important conversation!