Atlanta high school students are slated to take part in a pilot program that could make learning about democracy part of school curriculums nationwide.
An estimated 2,000 Atlanta Public Schools juniors and seniors will learn about the history of democracy and the importance of local government in a new initiative called Democracy Class Atlanta.
“APS students live in the cradle of the civil rights movement, and there is no better way to carry on that legacy than for our students to help launch Democracy Class Atlanta,” Atlanta Board of Education chair Jason Esteves said in a statement.
Teachers are being trained this week in the Democracy class lesson plan. Students will then have two 45-minute classes over the next five weeks, Selena Florence, APS assistant superintendent over teaching and learning, told Atlanta Civic Circle.
“It’ll be incorporated into already established classes,” such as U.S. History and Government, Florence added.
To ensure young people had a say in the curriculum, 10 APS students serve on the Atlanta Youth Civic Advisory Council which helped shape the curriculum for the Democracy class. The council includes Zakai Beck, a senior at Carver Early College; Anne Ware and Kaden Prater, both juniors at Carver; Raymond Bedell, a senior at Frederick Douglass High School; Kelly Tran and Annie Robinson, both seniors at Midtown High School (formerly Grady High School); Titus Graves, a junior at Maynard Holbrook Jackson High School; Elizabeth Millman and Jaiden Thomas, both seniors at Maynard Jackson; and King Walker, a senior at Booker T. Washington High School.
“It’s an important topic, especially right now in our current society,” Florence said. “We want to make sure students are informed and that we are doing our part as a system and throughout this partnership, to make sure that our students are engaging in the democratic process. We’re preparing them for actual voting when it’s their time.”
The program comes at a time when young people across the country have become more civically and politically active in their communities.
Last year, scores of young Americans took to the streets to protest racial injustice, police brutality and other problems. They also voted in record numbers in the presidential election, accounting for 17 percent of voters who cast ballots, according to Generation Progress, a national youth advocacy and education organization.
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), a non-profit youth vote research organization out of Tufts University, estimates between 53 and 56 percent of people under the age of 30 voted in the 2020 election, and the importance of this voting bloc is expected to grow. Millions of young Americans coming of voting age are expected to cast their votes for the first time in next year’s midterm elections and the presidential race in 2024.
Anne Steib, an Atlanta parent whose daughter is a junior at Midtown High, wasn’t aware of the class until Atlanta Civic Circle informed her. She thinks the concept is a good one, especially since her daughter is taking U.S. history this year.
“It ties in with U.S. history,” Steib said. “We want them to vote and get involved because they’ll be the next group of people running the country.”
Democracy Class Atlanta is believed to be the first of its kind — an initiative that brings together a major school system, voting rights groups and the sports and entertainment world to teach young people about the system that governs the United States.
The democracy initiative builds upon existing partnerships among APS, Rock The Vote, the New Georgia Project, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United, and the Good Trouble campaign. The initiative was announced on Aug. 6, the 56th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
“This is a pilot that we’re hoping to continue building on in Atlanta and replicate in other cities to empower youth across the country,” Rock The Vote President and Executive Director Carolyn DeWitt told Atlanta Civic Circle. “We ultimately hope that through this class, students will gain practical knowledge about how our democracy works, their role in it, and how to engage and participate.”
Rock The Vote is a 31-year-old nonpartisan, nonprofit dedicated to increasing young people’s political awareness.
DeWitt said students will be able to sign up to be volunteers or poll workers or get election reminders or register to vote if they are eligible.
“We are incredibly proud to join this effort to educate and inform our youngest voters and soon-to-be voters in Atlanta,” Kendra Cotton, chief operating officer at New Georgia Project, said.
“Every voice and every vote matters, and the right to vote is simply sacred,” Arthur M. Blank, chairman of AMB Sports and Entertainment, said. “By leveraging our voices and our collection of assets at the Blank Family of Businesses, we are committed to educating, inspiring and celebrating a culture of year-round civic participation, especially among our young people who are the promise of our future.”
The Democracy Class Atlanta session ends with a celebration in the Home Depot Backyard at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 28, National Voter Registration Day. The Atlanta Civic Youth Advisory Council is planning a pep rally for the end-of-class celebration.
What do you think about the potential of such a program? Email Tammy Joyner with your thoughts, or sound off in the comments section.