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High Schoolers Discuss Civic Learning at State Summit

New Bill Would Require Civic Engagement in Elementary, Middle School

Students seated on stage

Alex Edgar (right), a senior at UC Berkeley, moderated a discussion with four students, representing ideas and solutions that had been previously discussed in larger student groups.

Civic education plays a pivotal role in shaping informed and engaged citizens who actively participate in their communities and democracy. By helping students understand government structures, civic rights and responsibilities, and the importance of civil discourse, civic education cultivates a sense of duty and empowers positive contributions to society.

As Californians gear up to cast their ballots, the Los Angeles County Office of Education partnered with the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) yesterday to present the California Civic Learning State Summit. Held at the California Museum in downtown Sacramento, the event brought California high school students together with policymakers and education leaders to discuss innovative strategies, share best practices, and collaborate on initiatives to enhance civic education.

Preparing Students for an Active Citizenship Role

Students from across the state were welcomed to the state summit by Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David W. Gordon and State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond, Ed.D. Key stakeholders in attendance were introduced, including Senator Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks) and Sacramento County Board of Education President Bina Lefkovitz.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye, President and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California delivered an inspiring keynote. The retired Chief Justice of California explained that knowing how to bring about change is critical. “You have to participate to really have a credible opinion. Otherwise, it's just chatter and noise,” she said, noting that students might see a problem and come up with a great solution. “A law…is merely a manifestation of the policy that our decision-makers have decided to create. We all need civic engagement. Because we’re all in this democracy making this experiment work.”

A panel of students took the stage to discuss topics that were important to them, including literacy, trade school opportunities, cost of living concerns, and environmental education. They represented four larger groups that had discussed concerns and brainstormed dozens of potential solutions the day before as part of a youth engagement program conducted by the Civic Education Center. The student panelists talked about advocating for the common good and collaborating to find solutions that would be helpful not just locally, but statewide. The panel was moderated by Alex Edgar, a senior at UC Berkeley and the External Affairs Vice President for the Associated Students of the University of California.

After the students discussed their findings, they heard from additional experts, including Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), who talked about the importance of civic education and thanked the students for their comments and suggestions. “It’s so important for you to be aware of what’s happening. It’s so important for you to be engaging in the process,” he said, encouraging the students to be informed citizens. He said that the questions he gets from students in his district are actually some of the most rigorous and thoughtful.

Students also listened to two fascinating panel discussions and asked follow-up questions:

  • Civic Learning Panel—Moderated by Elaine Ikeda from LEAD California. Panelists included Keri Doggett (Teach Democracy), Joseph Kahne, Ph.D. (UC Riverside), and Michael Matsuda (Anaheim Union High School District).
  • Media Panel—Moderated by Beth Miller, Miller Public Affairs Group. Panelists included David Lesher (CalMatters), Melanie Mason (POLITICO), and Mackenzie Mays (Los Angeles Times).

The summit offered a platform for stakeholders to address the vital role of civic education in preparing students for active and engaged citizenship. It was sponsored by Californians for Civic Learning (an organization promoting robust civic learning), and Teach Democracy (formerly the Constitutional Rights Foundation).

Senate Bill 1094: Requiring Civic Engagement in Elementary and Middle School

The civic learning summit concluded with a discussion of Senate Bill (SB) 1094, which would require social science instruction to include principles of democracy and the State and Federal Constitutions. The bill would also require students to complete one civic engagement or experience with a governmental institution at least once while in grades 1–6, and again at least once in grades 7–8.

The co-author of SB 1094, Assemblymember Gail Pellerin (D-Santa Cruz), joined civic education expert Michelle Herczog, Ed.D., from the Los Angeles County Office of Education, to speak about the benefits of engaging students in civic education—especially in the years before high school.

Following the event, students got the opportunity to visit the State Capitol to speak with legislators about the bill and other important education topics.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Marc Berman

Tani Cantil-Sakauye (left), President and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, and Assemblymember Marc Berman (right) spoke to students.

Elaine Ikeda, Keri Doggett, Joseph Kahne, and Michael Matsuda

The Civic Learning panel was moderated by Elaine Ikeda (right) from LEAD California. Panelists included Michael Matsuda, Keri Doggett, and Joseph Kahne.

Beth Miller, Melanie Mason, David Lesher, and Mackenzie Mays

The media panel was moderated by Beth Miller (right) from Miller Public Affairs Group. Panelists included Melanie Mason, David Lesher, and Mackenzie Mays.

Dave Gordon, Gail Pellerin, and Michelle Herczog

Superintendent Gordon (left) introduced Assemblymember Gail Pellerin (center) and Michelle Herczog (right) to discuss SB 1094.