Nicole Mirra & Charlene Ortuno: Empowering Youth Civic Engagement in the 21st Century

February 21, 2013
4:00pm - 5:00pm PST
By Educator Innovator

How can parents, teachers, and mentors support innovative youth civic endeavors, both in- and out-of-school?

Key Questions and Comments:

  • (08:30) We asked the students: “What do you want to be free from?”…and then we asked, “What do you want freedom of?”
  • (15:08) It took my first four years of teaching for me to really understand that, as an English teacher of high school students, I didn’t care so much–at the end of the day–if students were able to diagram a sentence…what I really wanted was for them to be able to use language to advocate for themselves and for their communities. And for them to be able to take their literacy skills out into the real world and out into the realm of citizenship.
  • (16:58) Some people in Los Angeles had come to one of our professors and asked them: “Could you tell us a little bit more about why there are such problems in our district?” The professors realized that the best person to answer that question would not be professors, but students themselves who were the ones living and going to school every day in those communities.
  • (18:25) So, every year, our students would research for five weeks, develop PowerPoint presentations and documentary films based on the work they do all over L.A. (and we teach them how to use those tools), and then we would present this information to policymakers at City Hall…so that people can really see that young people are the ones that can control the education policy discussion; it doesn’t always have to be the adults.
  • (22:17) Our main goal is to figure out ways for young people to people that they don’t need to be civically involved only by voting. It’s not something that they’re going to gain when turn 18; they are already citizens, and they are already finding creative ways–both online and in their community–to speak back to the dominant portrayals of youth as ‘disengaged’ or ‘uninformed.’
  • (24:34) By offering that room in the classroom, that sort of “safe space,” we’re dealing with heavy topics…What does it mean to ‘participate’? What does it mean to be a ‘citizen’, an individual, in this country?
  • (26:54) How can we help students gain access to unschoolers or self-directed learners to realize a world beyond our prescribed curriculum?
  • (30:10) What are some ways to weave civic engagement into classroom learning within the framework of the Common Core standards?
  • (32:25) Not only do [kids] have access to the actual institutions in their local places, they’re very savvy. And when they have good guides to send them to web-based resources, the world opens up for them.
  • (34:09) Transforming the classroom and the learning this way (building that opportunity to connect what’s happening in the classroom and what’s happening outside the classroom doors)…do your students feel more responsive, more empowered, more relevant?
  • (38:25) We consciously wanted this program to not be a program where we’re taking students who are already academically engaged…we wanted this to be a chance to recruit students who…are feeling a little bit disengaged, see injustice around them and aren’t sure how to respond, and they don’t feel like they have a voice…those are the students we really want to bring in.
  • (39:41) At one of our presentations, our students talked about the fact that they didn’t have access to their counselors during lunch…principals heard that and that policy was changed the Monday after. Students really felt they had a sense of agency and a sense of empowerment.
  • (41:10) Innovation is really something that can’t be taught; it is something that has to be be facilitated. It has to grow from the ground, up…It’s changed the way I think about my curriculum and my instruction.
  • (44:01) How do we ‘level the playing field’ and offer technology to students who might not have it? Smartphones, libraries, social connectivity?…How do we make these opportunities more widely distributed to a greater diversity of kids?
  • (48:18) If we’re trying to create an educated civic body, we also have to teach them how to advocate for themselves. To build on inquiry. To begin to ask important questions, rather than always having the questions turned on them.
  • (54:45) Access to technology is, at best, half the problem…there are other kinds of issues in terms of literacy, participation, and designing these kinds of rich kinds of curriculum that support and enable these technologies and tools to be leveraged in meaningful and powerful ways.
  • (56:54) What we need to do is listen to these young teachers and capture their stories…to help us reconceive what it means to be a teacher.

View the Conversation
During the broadcast, the conversation also took place on Twitter using the hashtag #connectedlearning.

Guests for this webinar included:

  • Craig Watkins – Moderator/Host
  • Nicole Mirra – Guest Speaker. Nicole Mirra is a high school English teacher at Animo Watts College Preparatory Academy in Los Angeles, CA, and the coordinator of the UCLA Council of Youth Research: a university-school partnership program that engages students and teachers from five Los Angeles public schools in research aimed at challenging educational inequalities and fostering transformative civic engagement. She is also Chair of the “Envisioning 21st Century Education” track at DML2013.
  • Charlene Ortuno – Guest Speaker. Charlene Ortuno is an English teacher at iPrep Academy, a magnet high school in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She also serves as a curriculum consultant for “Teen Thoughts on Democracy,” a project at Florida International University’s museum, library, and research center called “The Wolfsonian.” She is currently a graduate student pursuing a Master of Arts in English at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English and a member of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network (BLTN).
  • Ileana Farre – Project Manager at the Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation in Chubut, Argentina
  • Dixie Goswami – Director of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network at Middlebury College

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