Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Advocacy Celebration Empowers Students at The Hope

    Informing, motivating, and advocating.These three verbs were used very widely last week at The Hope.
    Education at The Academy of Hope is broader than a passing grade or even the GED certificate.  It is the power to make a difference in all facets of life including in the community, and at the polls. With the mayoral election in full swing, The Hope staff wanted to put on an event in order to empower students to learn about the issues that affect their lives and the DC neighborhoods in which they live and work.  
    There is an overwhelming sense of economic and structural inequality for DC residents. Learning about the issues behind these feelings is empowering for students.
    “It’s a validation of discomfort that they feel, and there are real issues behind those emotions that their peers feel too,” Meghan, a social studies instructor and organizer of the event explained. “You’re saying ‘you’re right’. And that’s powerful. We're showing that there is a way for people to be engaged and to change the conditions they’re in.”
         Students proudly pose stating what issue
         the care about the most 
    Last Tuesday, students crowded classrooms participating in activities focusing on DC geography and demographics, DC vs. federal government, mayoral candidate topics, government budget, gentrification, and voting disenfranchisement. At the final station, students proudly posed for a photo while standing up for the topic that mattered most to them and voted in a mayoral election straw poll. Mauriel Bauser won The Hope’s election.
    Students gained mayoral candidate trading cards for each station, and classes competed with others for involvement. Student’s even presented mayoral informational posters at one station, and led the discussion.
    “They just did such a good job. They were the ones presenting and teaching,” Brittany, lead instructor said. “That’s one of the goals of Academy of Hope.”
Mayor Gray check out a station where
students matched up the different branches 
of the government
    The original idea sprouted from the Social Studies curriculum. Starting in January, students started learning about the three branches of government, the Senate, House and Congress work to pass laws. As the mayoral election campaigning ramped up in March, the idea to educate all of The Hope community about the topics involved with this election became the main focus.
    “We wanted  to have students  motivated to vote and to be informed about issues and candidates,” Meghan said. “My dream was exactly what happened. All the students were getting involved in something that was really fun and interesting to them. The work that we did together planning all the rooms turned out great.”
    The teachers noticed as they started teaching the political curriculum, there was a  lack of connection between big-sector issues and their own lives.This event aimed at connecting the political system and personal lives of students.
Director Lecsester greets Mayor Gray
    “I think our objective was giving people information about how to get out the vote. Showing why it’s important to get informed, so even if no one went out and voted about this I’d be fine, as long as they were informed. Even that is a decision.” Meghan said.
    The students saw truly how much their voice can be heard because the current Mayor (as of last week), Vincent Gray made a special appearance. He, and his camera crew, walked to all the stations, socializing with The Hope students and staff. One comedic moment was when he checked out a poster that was made about his political platform by a social studies class student. He stared at it very seriously before walking to the next classroom. 
    After his visit full of shaking hands, posing for pictures and learning about The Hope’s curriculum and Advocacy Celebration, he entered his vote into the straw poll. He voted for himself.
    For next year, Meghan wants to add a station where students can learn about all the positive changes that are being made because of citizens staying informed and standing up for issues that affect them.
    “People feel tension and a lack of power in the system, this event helps gives them a voice. There is progress, it’s just buried behind all the bad news.” 

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