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My Turn: Growing citizens for tomorrow

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Congratulations to the Juneau Empire and writer Ann Chandonnet for spotlighting the power of youth in civic life. A recent Empire article reported the success of Hoonah teenagers who petitioned the government and received permission to gather sea gull eggs on Middle Pass Rock, a traditional Tlingit practice.

The story described students working with the Hoonah Indian Association, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get approval to harvest eggs, for cultural purposes, after a ban of 80 years. The students wrote a petition, collected over 300 signatures, developed a resolution passed by their student government and, finally, got a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They were tenacious in their efforts and were responding to a challenge from their teacher to find a project that "would bring about change in the world." These students demonstrated that anyone has the power to bring about change, including young people!

When the media tell the stories of young people who have made a difference in their communities, it helps other students see what's possible. It helps to inspire and motivate others to take an interest in what's going on around them. However, a recent international study conducted in 28 democratic countries by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement tested the civic knowledge, engagement and positive civic attitudes of 14-year-olds. The survey revealed that U.S. students rank low in political engagement, that is, they simply aren't involved in anything related to government.

On the Fourth of July I announced the appointment of a task force to lead the Alaska Democracy Project (ADP), an effort to revitalize citizenship in our schools and communities. The task force, comprised of educators and community leaders, is working to expand civics education in Alaska's schools and community opportunities for "hands on" experiences in citizenship.

The Alaska Democracy Project task force has emphasized the need for curriculum and extracurricular activities which help young people learn and practice the skills they need to participate in a democracy: the arts of conflict resolution, cooperation, cultural respect, leadership, civic problem solving and community service. The Hoonah students exercised many of these skills in their gull egg project. They identified a community problem, obtained information, examined options, developed a plan and took action a model process for effecting change as a citizen.

An Alaska Democracy Project web site has been developed to provide civics resources and opportunities. (See www.gov.state.ak.us/ltgov.) It will evolve into a "one stop" site for civics education in Alaska. The site will feature success stories to inspire others to action. It will provide access to information about opportunities for young people and adults alike to participate in government. And, it will provide tips for all of us who want to take a positive role in growing good citizens and in being actively involved in the place we call home.

Next month we will initiate the first annual Alaska Democracy Week around Alaska Day. Between Oct. 13-19, all Alaskans will be encouraged to celebrate "Our Government Our Future" by getting involved in their school, community and/or state. The Alaska Municipal League and the Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency are encouraging policy makers to visit classrooms. Government and educational organizations will be promoting civic action through a variety of activities. You are invited to be a part of this celebration.

The Alaska Democracy Project task force is working to ensure that our students have the experiences they need to function well as citizens in a democracy. We invite the media to support this effort by searching out and reporting on young people who get involved in the governmental process. Adults can help by modeling community involvement and by talking with children about the important issues of the day. We can all help to create opportunities for young people to exercise their power as citizens and to prepare to become tomorrow's leaders.

If you would like to see a list of task force members, learn more about projects underway, or offer suggestions, please visit the Alaska Democracy Project web site at www.gov.state.ak.us/ltgov or e-mail me at civicseducation@gov.state.ak.us.



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