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Oakland Teens to be Honored for Outstanding Civic Engagement Projects as Part of Mills School of Education Initiative

05/15/2014 | 10:02am US/Eastern

Two dozen Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) students will be honored for outstanding civic engagement projects, highlighting an initiative launched by the Mills College School of Education in partnership with the OUSD and the National Writing Project. The student honors are part of the Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age (EDDA) Initiative, an effort to help local students become “community ready” in addition to being ready for college and career.

The awards will be presented by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan in an event celebrating community-ready high school seniors on Wednesday, May 28, 2014, from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm at Rothwell Center on the Mills campus.

Funded by the S. D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the district-wide high school initiative worked with roughly 1,000 Oakland students this year and there are plans for its expansion next year. Civic engagement is now a required part of senior projects at several OUSD high schools and, as a result of this initiative, some schools plan to integrate awareness of civic engagement into every year of their high school students’ experience.

“One of the exciting things about this initiative is that teachers are finding ways to combine active engagement around real-world issues that young people care about with chances to develop critical thinking and academic skills,” said Mills Professor of Education Joseph Kahne, co-principal investigator for EDDA. “Bringing community issues into the classroom is beneficial for both civic and academic goals, and offers an opportunity to educate not just for college and career but also for community readiness.”

Use of social media plays a prominent role in the initiative, as students are given guidance on using digital media for civic engagement rather than just for entertainment.

“What we’re seeing is that digital media is playing a critical role in how young people are engaging in politics,” said Ellen Middaugh, research director of the Civic Engagement Research Group at Mills. “We’ve found that when teachers integrate social issues and community action into the classroom and use digital media, students are more engaged in school.”

Paul Oh, senior program associate at the National Writing Project, added, "We're finding that as EDDA teachers become better versed in the classroom use of digital media and today's tools of communication, they're providing students more opportunities to develop web literacy skills and create impact with peers and mentors locally and across the country."

About the Awards

Students embarked on a wide range of community-focused projects, from violence prevention through art and increasing literacy at the local level to the implications of gentrification on local neighborhoods, social support for immigrants, and overcoming bullying. Other students looked at education itself, with projects examining inequities in school funding, causes of student anxiety, improvement of school sports facilities, and youth participation in school decision making.

Five of the students will be recognized with special distinction for their projects across five categories:

  • The Policy Analyst: Valerie Panameno (Fremont High School) examined the complex and compelling issue of Latino parents’ education levels and the corresponding implications for student success.
  • The Action Researcher: Hezekiah Burton (Skyline High School) worked with his peers to research and produce a film entitled Pushin’ Positivity, raising awareness about the positive aspects of Oakland. He also leads workshops for underclassmen.
  • The Digital Gamechanger: Yasser Alwan (Oakland International High School) engaged in digital and face-to-face advocacy to bring a soccer field to OIHS, including creating a video and speaking at community meetings.
  • The Community Connector: Angelica Lopez (MetWest High School) organized a Violence Prevention Week at her school, set up a mentoring program for middle school students, and organized a commemorative altar and mural to remember those affected by violence.
  • The Empowered Civic Actor: Victoria Moli (Coliseum College Prep Academy) co-teaches a social justice class for 9th and 10th graders at Street Academy and facilitates a Theater of the Oppressed class for young people in downtown Oakland. She has advocated for increased school funding, has given passionate speeches to school and community groups, and is now working on a film about her experiences in Oakland.

All five special distinction winners will participate in a panel discussion at the awards event, giving them an opportunity for them to talk about their work and engage the audience in discussion.

“These students exemplify the qualities we want in our graduates—they care about issues in their community, understand these issues deeply, and take actions to make a positive change,” said Young Whan Choi, civic engagement coordinator for OUSD. “We can be proud that Oakland students are shining a light on a whole new approach to education.”

View a short video describing the EDDA program that shows students and teachers in action: Mills Helps Boost Digital Media Literacy and Civic Engagement in Oakland’s Public High Schools

About Mills College

Nestled in the foothills of Oakland, California, Mills College is a nationally renowned, independent liberal arts college offering a dynamic progressive education that fosters leadership, social responsibility, and creativity in approximately 1,000 undergraduate women and 600 graduate women and men. The College has been named one of the Best 378 Colleges in the country in the nation by The Princeton Review. U.S. News & World Report ranked Mills one of the top-tier regional universities in the country and lists it among the top colleges and universities in the West in the “Great Schools, Great Prices” category. For more information, visit www.mills.edu.

© Business Wire 2014
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