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Creating Opportunities for Students to Learn Through Civic Journalism

Students from Columbia School conduct a community interview
Students from Columbia School conduct a community interview

Youth Voices is working with middle school students from three schools in the El Monte City School District: Columbia, Durfee, and Wright. The students, participants in the English Language Development program at their schools, formed teams to explore, investigate, and write about an important issue in their community; all the while they are learning and expanding their knowledge of civic journalism and community engagement. Follow their work on social media by using the hashtag #KCETYV.

In March of this year, Youth Voices held a professional development workshop with English Language Development (ELD) teachers and coaches from the El Monte City School District. They explored the Youth Voices curriculum and outlined ways in which they could integrate the civic journalism activities into their classroom during a ten week session in the spring. The curriculum integrates critical thinking and participatory action, providing youth an opportunity to research, write, investigate, and advocate for and about issues in their community. For all students, but uniquely for ELD students, the program provides a space to develop their language and writing skills through a series of activities that focus on what they know and value, creating opportunities for them to stretch their abilities.

The teachers at Columbia, Durfee, and Wright Schools implemented the program with their seventh grade students and facilitated their process of identifying a concern or issue that they would investigate in their community.

EMCSD Teachers and coaches take park in a Youth Voices workshop
EMCSD Teachers and coaches take park in a Youth Voices workshop

Students at Durfee School were invited to learn about the natural environment with assistance from Amigos de los Rios. They became citizen scientist as part of the Operation Tree Canopy project, collecting data on local trees and contributing to a better understanding of what types of species (age, size, location, etc.) best prevent urban heat islands. This prepared the students for their own projects, many following the same environmental theme.

Students at Columbia School looked at the history of El Monte, especially how it connects to their experiences in the community today. They researched El Monte High School and the local Shakey's Pizza parlor to better understand their place in the city's history.

Students at Wright School decided to look at key issues in their school and neighborhood that could be improved, including the development of a gymnasium at their school, an animal shelter in El Monte, promoting water conservation, fixing potholes, and revitalizing the Valley Mall.

Durfee students prepare to collect environmental data for Operation Tree Canapy
Durfee students prepare to collect environmental data for Operation Tree Canopy
Students at Wright School take their breaks outside in the school's yard.
Students at Wright School take their breaks outside in the school's yard.

As they developed their Youth Voices projects, students at all the schools began to ask questions and explore ideas that are meaningful to them and their experiences. This critical inquiry is one of the objectives of the Youth Voices curriculum, and a process that can facilitate deeper and richer conversations about important issues in their community. This process is not without its challenges, however, as students discovered when trying to manage their time and stay motivated.

Nonetheless, the students and teachers persevered as they investigated, researched, and wrote their articles, which provide a glimpse into how seventh graders view their city and their school's assets and needs. This is a view that public officials and community leaders should take note of, as almost 30% of the city population is under 18.

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