Generation Citizen: Teach Teens to Make a Difference, While Fullfilling Your Core Service Learning

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(Left to right) Tina Celani, senior and current chapter director of Generation Citizen USF, worked with 8th graders Magnus, Oak, fellow democracy coach and USF sophomore Noelle Garza, and 8th grader Tyler to create safer park access for middle schoolers at Kimball Park. (Photo courtesy of Tina Celani)

Are you interested in making an active change in the community? Teaching high school students about political action? Making middle school students feel safer in their own parks and playgrounds?

Generation Citizen is a non-profit organization that aims to solve problems in local communities through civic education. With the help of teachers and trained college volunteers called democracy coaches, Generation Citizen provides middle school and high school students the opportunity to directly participate in their local government through an in-class curriculum designed to get students to work with local leaders to address an issue relevant to them.

Tina Celani, senior communications major, is chapter director for the USF Chapter of Generation Citizen, which started on campus in the fall.

“There has been a huge lack of civic education for low-income students and students in general, and Generation Citizen helps change that,” Celani said. “By working with students to actively identify and address a problem in the community, you have them understand that they can make a change — you give them the opportunity to be important.”

Working as a democracy coach last semester, Celani and her class of 8th graders at the Creative Arts Charter School, worked to increase police presence at the nearby Kimball park.

“My students chose to focus on their local park because they felt really unsafe there,” Celani said. “What Generation Citizen does, is they really want to come up with the root of the cause and actively try to solve that, so after discussing as a class, we came to the fact that there weren’t enough police officers in Kimball park, and drafted letters and petitions to change that.”

Celani and fellow senior communications major Erin McCroskey, outreach director for Generation Citizen USF, are currently seeking student volunteers for the new semester.

Democracy coaches will be assigned a classroom of 15-30 students at a middle or high school in the San Francisco area.

Over the course of a twice-weekly semester-long program, democracy coaches teach a variety of lessons on local government and politics, and then work with their class to select an issue in their community they want to try and fix, like park safety, bus safety, or providing enough school supplies for students.

Then, coaches and students create a strategic plan to take action through various means like lobbying to elected officials through letters and petitions, writing opinion pieces in newspapers, and filming documentaries to create awareness of the issues at hand.

Democracy coaches can work individually or in pairs, and will always have the classroom teacher present with them when working. Generation Citizen provides step-by-step lesson plans to aid democracy coaches, who will meet on campus once a week to go over the lesson with their superiors.

At the end of every semester, Generation Citizen volunteers will have put in about 40 hours of classroom time, culminating in Civics Day, in which democracy coaches and student representatives from each class present their projects to other students, community members, and public officials, and sometimes win awards.

Last semester, Celani and McCroskey’s classrooms both received awards for their respective work in creating safer parks and bus rides.

“You don’t need to be knowledgeable in politics or education to volunteer,” Celani said. “Anyone who is interested in working with middle schoolers or high schoolers who are interested in becoming an effective and engaged citizens — anyone that likes to help to others; that likes to actively solve problems and work with other people; or that wants to gain a fulfilling experience — should apply.”

McCroskey echoed, “Being in Generation Citizen has taught me that education, in itself, is a social movement. I would recommend this organization to anyone and everyone.”

Volunteerwork with Generation Citizen can fulfill the service learning (SL) requirement for certain classes. Be sure to ask your professor if this will count for you.

To apply to become a democracy coach through Generation Citizen USF, visit the official website

    The final date to apply is next Monday, February 3, 2014. 

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