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Public Affairs Academy Teaches Students About Civic Engagement

The academy’s goal is to show rising juniors and seniors in high school the importance of civic engagement and that they have the power to effect change in their community.

Candace Fisk is the academy director.

“Kind of our theme is that we’re equipping them to work for the greater good and convince them that even though they are only 16 or 17 years old, that they can indeed make a difference. They don’t have to wait until they’re in college or have a career.”

To put that idea into practical terms, Fisk says the students learn about the issue of poverty through speakers, hands-on activities, and discussions.

“We have had speakers in who have addressed poverty-related issues like food insecurity, lack of access to medical care. Through simulations, speakers, discussions, and even films, we try to show students different aspects of that one social issue. We spend a lot of time talking and planning about what can be done to address that issue.”

This year, the academy students spent part of their time packaging thousands of meals for Friends Against Hunger. Learning about an issue and then doing something about it inspired academy participant Randy Freeman found inspiring. He’ll be a senior this fall at Greenwood Lab School in Springfield.

“Instead of just learning how to be a leader, we actually do service projects like Friends Against Hunger and then we did a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald Tooth Truck at Panera. So, I really like that.”

“We have a lot of hands-on experience.  It’s not all textbook and statistics, which is a nice change. We learn more that way instead of just reading about a certain problem.”

That’s Amollie (uh-MOLLY) Stoermer…She’ll be a high school senior this fall and plans to study political science in college and go to law school.

Besides doing hands-on activities during the academy, the students also formulate a plan to address an issue in their own community after the academy ends. Academy director Candace Fisk says the students have to think about ways to make their plan work.

“We ask them to think through not only what need could be addressed, but make a concrete plan for how they could help organize a project or activity to address that need. Beyond that, we also encourage them to think about the people they would need to engage, what obstacles they might face, are there going to be resources they’ll need? We get pretty practical. They all walk out the door with a written plan and they sign a commitment that they will do their best to implement that plan when they’re back in their home community.”

Among the projects students will be implementing—a Humane Society fundraiser, a job fair for high school students who want part-time work, and a dance to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network.