League of Women Voters launches hands-on civic learning program
Even in years without elections, such as most of Solano County in 2023, it is important to know how government works, how your voice can be heard and things that can be done to impact change.
A new program from the League of Women Voters of Solano County (LWVSC) is aiming to do exactly that. “Democracy Matters: A LWVCS Civics Class” seeks to extend civic education activities to middle, high school and community college students in a handson way.
The program was started by Alice Fried, LWVSC board member and Vacaville resident.
“What's missing in Civics education in the classroom now is information on the role citizens must play to make government work,” Fried said in a statement. “We are a government `of the people, by the people, and for the people.' Therefore, citizens need to know how government works to effectively participate, especially in local government which is the most impactful on everyday life.”
The program has already been introduced to the Solano Youth Coalition (SYC) and Golden Hills Community School and consists of three primary tools. The first is an Observer Corps training, which brought a mock city council meeting to the Suisun Council Chamber on Feb. 4 to show SYC students how local meetings are conducted and how the public can get involved.
“The training included direct instruction on how local government affects daily life; why and how to attend a city council meeting to observe and provide input; and how to engage and communicate with elected officials and other community members,” LWV officials wrote in a news release. “Students were also informed on Sunshine Laws—the National Freedom of Information Act as well as the Brown Act that governs how California officials must conduct themselves to guarantee that their processes are transparent and open to citizens.”
The training received support from actual county elected officials such as Suisun City Mayor Alma Hernandez, Fairfield-Suisun school board Trustee Ana Petero, former Vacaville Councilman Nolan Sullivan and current Vacaville council members Jeanette Wylie, Greg Ritchie and Sarah Chapman. Other supporters included SYC project coordinator Rebecca Floyd, Program Manager Johanna Nowak-Palmer, Suisun City Manager Greg Folsom and LWVSC member Sandy Coury.
“It's absolutely wonderful to see young people involved,” Wylie said in a statement. “As a retired teacher, I understand the importance of a handson approach. So I say to LWVSC, keep it up!”
The second tool is voter education training, which consisted of John Gardner — assistant registrar of voters — training students on actual equipment used in the last election so they could see how residents register to vote and submit a ballot through the scanner.
“If we can hook students early, then there is a higher chance they will stay involved,” Gardner said in a statement.
Finally, civics classes were held at Golden Hills in January where students learned about critical thinking and public speaking skills when interacting with elected officials. Presentations were delivered by Petero, Suisun City Councilwoman Princess Washington and Vacaville Councilman Jason Roberts.
The program was praised by elected officials. In a statement, Chapman recalled how churches taught people during the Civil Rights Movement how to gather input about local elections and brought lessons back to their members.
“That's what this program does for students,” she said.
According to the news release, Fried hopes to expand the civics class to more high schools and community colleges in the county, as well as take it to the national LWV so that it can be used in other communities around the country.