CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A curriculum that has involved hundreds of Illinois youths in advocating for policy changes in their communities also could help schools fulfill a new state mandate that makes civics education a requirement for high school graduation.
The curriculum – called Engaging Youth for Positive Change – is a service-learning project that guides students through all of the processes associated with persuading their community leaders to adopt a new ordinance. Among other activities, EYPC involves youths in conducting surveys, analyzing data and preparing arguments for and against the policy they’re proposing.
The ultimate goal of these projects is for youths to deliver a formal presentation of their findings before local officials and the members of the community, said EYPC’s developer, University of Illinois research scientist Scott Hays.
The EYPC curriculum provides a meaningful service-learning experience that can be implemented over several weeks or months, which, in addition to teaching students about government also hones skills in subjects such as science, statistics and English composition, said Hays, who works for the university’s Center for Prevention Research and Development, a unit within the School of Social Work.
Under a new law that takes effect this fall in Illinois, the state’s young people will be required to take a civics course that includes a service-learning project to receive their high school diploma.
Geared toward youths ages 13 to 18, the EYPC curriculum is used by schools, after-school programs and 4-H clubs across Illinois.
EYPC is the required program model for the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Reality Illinois anti-tobacco campaign. Through Reality Illinois, groups of youths across the state persuaded their city councils, park districts or other governing bodies to pass at least nine new ordinances between fall 2013 and summer 2015, Hays reported in a recent program analysis.
Six Illinois communities, including Elgin and Rock Island, passed ordinances making their local parks or areas within their parks smoke-free. In addition, officials in Marengo banned smoking at a community festival, and two municipalities implemented new regulations on e-cigarettes, according to Hays’ report.
Officials in Rantoul banned smoking within 50 feet of the village’s playgrounds based upon a presentation by a group of eighth-graders from J.W. Eater Junior High School last fall, said that group’s facilitator, Tara McCauley.
“As eighth-graders, they’re not used to being able to impact the adult world, and they felt very empowered by it,” said McCauley, a special projects coordinator with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. “Many people don’t realize how much of a difference young people can make in politics. They may not be able to vote or run for office, but they still have a voice and can make a difference.”
At the time of Hays’ report, an additional 12 policy proposals that originated with other Reality Illinois teen groups were under consideration by other governing bodies.
Although civic leaders voted down policies that were proposed by several Reality Illinois groups, Hays said that the experience was still worthwhile for the teens involved.
“In any policy effort, the most important outcome is raising awareness in the community and gaining experience for those who are working on it,” Hays said. “Even if the proposal fails, participants have learned from that experience. Frankly, I think young people learn a little bit more from a failure – from a ‘no’ vote than from a passing vote – because they could get the misimpression that this work is easy.”
Hays said the EYPC curriculum can provide “very teachable moments” on numerous health and environmental policies – such as local regulations associated with farmers markets, school cafeterias, walking and biking trails, and use of plastic bags.
Twenty-one teachers, school counselors and other people who work with youths participated in an EYPC facilitator-training workshop that was held recently in Normal, Illinois. The workshops, which are free to participants who live or work in Illinois, walk facilitators through some of EYPC’s 28 recommended learning activities.
EYPC offers travel stipends for all facilitator-training participants and reimburses schools for the costs of substitute teachers if needed. The workshops also fulfill six professional development credit hours for teachers, Hays said.
EYPC will offer its next facilitator-training workshop in August. A link is provided on the website for people interested in registering for the upcoming workshop.