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At civics competition, students present plans for progress

The ninth grade girls at the Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice weren’t interested in much when Pace University junior Kayla Francis first visited their classroom in February to discuss civics topics to research. She tossed out a few ideas – poverty, humanitarianism – until one issue finally caught their attention.

“Nothing got them as excited as women’s health,” said Francis.

Led by Francis, a mentor on the project, the group spent the next six weeks researching women’s health issues, including teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, which they said were issues in their own all-girls school.

On Friday they presented their findings – along with a plan to raise awareness – to a panel of about 40 judges from around the city community as part of an inaugural “Civics Day” event hosted by Generation Citizen.

More than 500 middle and high school students from 14 schools participated in the six-week program, which is in its first year in New York City. Generation Citizen, founded by Scott Warren during his senior year at Brown University in 2008, already has similar civics programs in Boston and Providence.

New York City is no stranger to civics education programs, of course. In March, a similar event was held at the Academy for Young Writers.

Twenty-five projects were on display to be judged at Friday’s event, held at the Smithsonian Museum in Lower Manhattan. They covered a range of topics, including the economy, bullying, drinking and loitering, immigration, and racial-profiling. Each project was directed by college-aged volunteer mentors.

The winners – the award was a plaque – were Concord High School in Staten Island and Brooklyn’s P.S 265 Susan McKinney Secondary School for the Arts. Students at Concord tackled college readiness for their project and won in part for a plan to create an SAT tutoring program in the school. As part of their research, students surveyed the Concord student body and visited classes at Wagner College.

McKinney, the middle school winner, focused on reducing dropout rates and won for their plan to create a tutoring program.

The students at Urban Assembly School created a proposal for a mandatory women’s health and sex education class to be incorporated into the school’s curriculum. Freshman Suma Akter said she thought one of the reasons that some of her classmates were getting pregnant and contracting STDs was because of a lack of information that led to poor decisions.

“In this class we get the opportunity to help make things right,” Akter said.

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