For one of the largest high schools in a major western U.S. city, homecoming turned more nightmare than celebration, as young female students reported several instances of sexual assault. Enraged students called for something to be done. The school’s student voice and leadership team conducted research on the issue and proposed a solution: a comprehensive health class that educated students on healthy sexual relationships. The team and principal have met regularly — even as learning went online during the COVID-19 school closures. The principal has allocated money to hire a full-time health teacher.
At a large high school in an eastern suburb, students gathered during their lunch period to discuss issues of discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation that directly impacted them. They organized into a student voice group, partnered with teacher mentors and their administration, and set out to identify the root causes of discrimination at their school. They surveyed and interviewed their peers to better understand how discrimination impacted their experiences, who was most vulnerable, and how adults in their school responded to issues of discrimination. Based on their findings, they proposed that the school diversify the curriculum, invest in anti-bias professional development, appoint a student representative to the Equity Council, and hold group discussions about discrimination with students. After presenting their results and policy proposal to the entire high school staff, students now serve on the Equity Council, contribute to conversations about curriculum, and continue to work toward their goals.
In another big western U.S. school district, students from various high schools met outside of class to discuss what they saw as a growing problem of police and campus security officers targeting students of color and generally disrupting school culture. After conducting research, they considered a proposal to abolish all campus security, but a sizable portion of students they interviewed appreciated the protective benefits of the officers. So the students revised their policy based on what their stakeholders wanted, instead calling for the district to craft a holistic student support plan that included things like bolstered mental health services along with a less intrusive campus security approach.
Though these issues and locations may seem scattered, they are each powerful examples of how youth can identify and research problems, develop policy, and share it with the people who have the power to make change. These three examples all followed the same curricular guide: the Critical Civic Inquiry curriculum, informed by a youth participatory action research approach called Critical Civic Inquiry (CCI; Hipolito-Delgado & Zion, 2017).
The three examples spotlight exactly what the curriculum was designed to achieve:
In addition, the CCI approach has been shown to increase students’ academic achievement, civic self-efficacy (or belief that their actions matter), psychological empowerment, and understanding of their identity (Hipolito-Delgado & Zion, 2017; Hipolito-Delgado, Stickney, & Kirshner, 2020). Teachers who have taught the curriculum also show higher levels of sociopolitical understanding and are more adept at facilitating and navigating difficult conversations around race, power, and privilege (Zion, Allen, & Jean, 2015; Zion, York, & Stickney, 2017).
The curriculum development has taken a long and circuitous route. It was originally devised as during early incarnations of a CCI class in an education master’s program. Classroom teachers melded their content curriculum with the eight CCI cycles of inquiry. Some of those teachers cobbled their disparate approaches into a more codified curriculum. That work was then leveraged by teachers and youth community organizers to create various student voice initiatives – both inside and outside schools – in Colorado, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
As the number of youth involved in those initiatives grew, so did the need for an enhanced and updated curriculum. Grant support from the Hewlett Foundation and KnowledgeWorks has enabled the CCI team to do just that. The CCI curriculum consists of 8 cycles that build on each other and is targeted at teachers and community organizers engaging in student voice work with middle- and high-schoolers. It includes more than 30 pre-created activities, complete with detailed facilitator notes and all necessary hand-outs, that take roughly 45-60 minutes to teach.
While the road map (link here) gives a glimpse at all of the cycles, the curriculum follows a general flow of building community, selecting a focal problem that is relevant to the youth participants, conducting research, developing a policy solution, and presenting it in some authentic way.
This curriculum is unique from other YPAR or student-voice oriented curricula in several ways. First, the curriculum is designed in spiraled cycles to emphasize the value of the process over the product. The CCI approach engages students in a never ending process of inquiry, research, and policy-making that leads to sustained and transformative change in their communities. Second, the curriculum is designed to equip youth with the tools to deconstruct privilege and unlearn systems of oppression. Lessons like “Counternarratives 3C,”
Root Cause Analysis, 2C” and “Punching Up, 8A” support the critical consciousness development that is an integral part of youth activism and engagement.
Another notable difference is the CCI curriculum’s ties to the Measures for Youth Policy Arguments (MYPA; Kirshner, et al., 2020), a tool designed to assess the quality of student policy presentations. A survey of 13 other youth voice rubrics found a heavy focus on public speaking skills, where MYPA addresses those skills and gives insight into areas such as problem identification, research methods, and policy development (Hipolito-Delgado, Stickney, & Kirshner, 2020). The MYPA rubric provided needed grounding for the curriculum.
Both the CCI curriculum and the MYPA rubric are available here. This video tour of the curriculum provides an in-depth look of how educators can get started.
While this post sheds light on the curriculum and the many reasons the CCI collective is excited about it, it is merely a means to an end. A Google Drive full of cool activities and lessons is not the goal. Our aim is simple: we want to see more powerful stories like those in our introduction, of youth using their voice to make meaningful change.