Advocacy lesson extends beyond students’ classroom
Kamryn eagerly greeted me as our English class began, “Mrs. Penrod, I am so invested in what is happening with SB131. I watched the committee meeting yesterday, and I cannot wait to talk to our legislators about this!”
Little did I know that Nevada’s 82nd legislative session would engage my Nevada State dual-credit English 102 students as it has. I frequently encourage and involve my high school students in leadership endeavors. Yet, they had not previously leaned into advocacy to inform or express their support of statewide initiatives or legislation. They had not known how to effectively and confidently use their voices to speak to issues that are important to them as students.
This year, I set an intentional goal to help my students learn to advocate for what they believe is essential in Nevada. As Gen Z voters, it is critical that our graduating seniors know how to advocate as future business owners, parents, community members and citizens of the world.
Angel excitedly stated he wanted to meet with Assemblywoman Erica Mosca (D-Las Vegas) to discuss AB241, which puts all Nevada students on a college and career pathway. Student agency and voice are essential skills that must be cultivated as students enter high school. It is imperative that we, as teachers, empower students to find and amplify their voice.
My students have researched and become passionate about many proposed bills during my legislative advocacy unit. As part of their leadership and advocacy, they have met with Assemblyman Duy Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) and Clark County School District (CCSD) School Board Trustee Irene Bustamante Adams to discuss education concerns in the state of Nevada, most specifically, AB274, proposed legislation on financial literacy bill that Assemblyman Nguyen is co-sponsoring. Students know what they need, yet often, they are not considered or invited to share their voices or ideas.
I learn more from my students daily; this year has been exceptionally fulfilling. They have researched and provided written testimony on a diversity of bills, such as AB73, which allows cultural and religious regalia at graduation; AB81, which allows individuals with a concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit to have a gun in their car or locked compartment; and SB70 that allows student-athletes to receive pay for the use of their likeness. They have provided written testimony, scheduled meetings with legislators and independently discussed proposed legislation with their elected representatives.
Challenging, supporting and empowering students in commitment to civic engagement is powerful. They can appreciate the impact of their leadership and advocacy and are encouraged to continue in leadership and advocacy as young adults. Witnessing my students' initiative and commitment to engage in the legislative process has made me proud. They see the value of their voice. It is not an easy task to teach students to lead and advocate; however, it is a meaningful endeavor, and there are many ways to do so.
1. Integrate lessons on leadership and advocacy into the curriculum: This could be as simple as examining Gov. Joe Lombardo’s proposed budget and incorporating the learning experience into a math lesson that meets academic standards. Students can also be taught how to navigate the NELIS website in a computer science course.
An example of how I incorporate the integration of leadership and advocacy into the existing curriculum includes using ELA standards that focus on speaking, listening, research, etc., to teach students the skills needed to master the high school English. Additionally, I incorporated an op-ed writing assignment's drafting, pitching and publication request into our learning unit. I ensure that my instructional design includes student engagement with the various steps of the writing process, allowing for an opportunity to reflect on their learning and what it means to them.
2. Empower students to engage with legislative representatives: The first step in our instructional unit was learning about elected leaders and engaging with them. Students researched their legislators based on home, school and work addresses using the Find Your Legislature feature on NELIS. They wrote business letters requesting meetings and then set up appointments to meet with legislators regarding education concerns and bills about which they were most passionate.
This experience taught them how to research leaders in positions of power and how to properly communicate in writing with them. The process of engaging with state legislators empowered the students and increased their confidence in their leadership and advocacy.
3. Foster student agency and independence: My students learned invaluable advocacy, communication, organizational, leadership and networking skills. They demonstrated independent leadership and supported one another in growing personally, academically and civically. They came to understand how their civic engagement impacts change.
As much as I can teach them how to research, write and discuss the legislative process, engaging firsthand with elected legislators empowered them and taught them that they are valuable, contributing members of society.
If we want our graduates to be actively engaged as community members and leaders, they must learn how to communicate effectively and engage with other community members, including elected state leaders. My students will forever remember the 82nd legislative session in Nevada and know they had a voice in important legislation that impacted the lives of their families, friends and fellow Nevadans. We should cultivate such an opportunity for all our students; they are our future leaders.
Laura Jeanne "Jeannie" Penrod teaches English at Southwest Career and Technical Academy.