Sign Up and Celebrate Democracy Day!
By Meredith Barnett
Forty years ago, young activists came together to rally for 18-year-olds to be given the right to vote. But today, even though more young voters are exercising their political voices than ever, getting youth engaged can be a challenge. That’s where Democracy Day comes in. “Many of our students are unaware of how to register to vote or even the importance of them voting,” says Meaghan Barber-Smith, a teacher at Bakersfield, California’s Highland High School.
Barber-Smith has signed up to participate in NEA and Rock the Vote’s first-ever Democracy Day on March 23rd, an exciting new event way to energize and inform students about voting. The day commemorates the passage of the 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. To kick it off, Rock the Vote and NEA call on educators to celebrate civic engagement in their classrooms with a Democracy Class lesson plan, a curriculum that uses video and interactive activities to educate soon-to-be voters.
“Turning 18 and becoming eligible to vote is a tremendous rite of passage,” said Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote. “Junior and senior year of high school is the ideal moment to connect with young people, and give them the tools to become life-long voters and participants in our country’s democracy.”
Barber-Smith is excited to use the lesson with her school’s 400 seniors during a week where 9th through 11th graders have state testing.
“I thought that the Rock the Vote lesson would be a perfect fit for them,” says this English teacher, who’s partnering with a fellow educator to deliver the curriculum. “I am trying to plan activities for our seniors that will benefit them for the real world, which they will be quickly joining in a matter of months.”
The lesson plan begins with a hip video exploring the history of voting rights, followed by a student discussion of the local issues impacting them. Class culminates in a mock election where students run for office based on a platform they support. It’s a proven model that Rock the Vote has already piloted in several states.
“Democracy Class is an excellent way for students to learn that they have a voice in the future if they take the time to vote,” says Barbara Wainer, an Ohio social studies teacher atIndependence High School who used the program with her students. “They loved reading the rapper’s words and hearing the songs that spoke about voting.”
Teachers can sign up to receive Democracy Class materials at this website http://democracyday.com/. The packet of materials that will be mailed to teachers includes “Keep on Rocking the Vote” cards for each student. Teachers and students can mail these cards back to be entered in a drawing for prize packs that include iPads, iPods, school supplies, concert tickets and gift cards from American Express and Staples.
The site also features a host of resources for teachers and students, including interviews with celebrities like Alicia Keys and NBA player Baron Davis discussing pressing political issues, free music downloads, a portal for registering to vote and a “Voting 101” tipsheet.
Democracy Day will be a recurring event, rallying the next generation of voters to engage. After all, by the 2012 election, young people will make up 24% of the voting age population. Democracy Day is one way to make sure they’re prepared and excited to rock the vote. “I’m hoping that they will all walk away with an understanding of the importance of voting and that it’s their civic duty to do so,” says Barber-Smith.