December 12, 2012 – a day that was unique for many reasons, one being that it was Generation Citizen Day at the State House in Massachusetts. 300+ students gathered in the Great Hall of Flags in 2 different sessions to showcase their projects, discuss with judges their research work, plans, and reasons that the problems they were addressing were so important to citizens in their respective communities. Projects were done by middle school students and high school students, and covered such topics as community gardens, food programs for the hungry, language issues for a growing multicultural society, and bullying. Bullying was the topic of choice for several student groups, indicating the severity of the issue for students. It is wonderful to see that they recognize this, for we often see or hear parents and educators speaking about bullying but all too often the only voice of students is heard after some tragic event. It was very refreshing to hear students act in a proactive manner and provide some genuinely thoughtful ways to address the issue in an ongoing manner.
Generation Citizen is directed locally by Gillian Pressman, and the organization of this day/event required many details for schools and the State House to be well coordinated. Several guest speakers were on hand to emphasize to students that they – as a small group and as individuals – could indeed make a difference. This is something we often lose sight of as educators and as adults. One person can make the difference in a school, in a faculty, in a community; we are not saying it’s an easy task to accomplish, but each of us can be that one person. And clearly as a collaborative endeavor, much can be accomplished. This is the role of citizens we aim to encourage and endorse. In our own schools and classrooms, we seek to achieve this but it often gets lost in the considerable content that is so often part of course after course. And all schools include as some part of their mission statement a reference to educating or developing active or participatory citizens, so this approach, especially as an independent project, truly addresses the citizenship part of a school’s mission.
This program is ideal for a school that is seeking to incorporate a service learning or community service piece into their school environment, whether as a graduation requirement or as an elective program. The Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies encourages more schools to incorporate Generation Citizen programs into their middle and high schools to further the development of young citizens in the hope that they become fully participating citizens for many years to come. Congratulations to Gillian Pressman and her colleagues for a job well done, for a program that is wholly worthwhile, and best wishes for continued success bringing powerful citizenship to the students of our schools and of our communities.