Courtesy of Andrew Simmons/San Rafael High School

First Tuesdays Students Speak: An Inspiring Self-Advocacy Activity for Any Classroom

Editor's Note: Andrew Simmons is an English teacher at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, and—along with his colleagues—the founder of a brand new civic engagement project called First Tuesdays Students Speak. In this guest post, we've asked him to share his inspiration for this sustained, positive, and constructive letter-writing campaign—along with instructions, so that you can adapt this fantastic ongoing advocacy activity for your own grade level and subject area.  

 

Sometimes, students plan your lessons for you. After the November 8 election, many students in my classes at San Rafael High School expressed disappointment, fear, and anger. I teach in Marin County. Most students are liberal. A majority is Latino. Students organized a walkout and participated in community protests. Several teachers in my department saw their discontent as an opportunity to encourage civic engagement. Writing is for the articulation of ideas, the telling of stories, the arguing of positions. We decided that, in an attempt to channel their feelings and thoughts into sustained, constructive responses, the students should write a letter to the president-elect. 

 

We also decided that one letter would not be sufficient. Students prefer events over processes, and we wanted them, if truly inspired, to cultivate the patience and persistence effective activism requires. We thought that, with students gradually taking ownership, First Tuesday Students Speak would provide a regular opportunity for this process. Every month, we're having students, in letters, communicate hopes, concerns, and ideas to elected and appointed government officials, regardless of the expressed political beliefs. The assignment will vary to reflect current events and relevant units. Every first Tuesday of every month, we're trying (again, with students—in this case, the experts—leading the way) to document the process and products of this work on social media. 

 

At this point, participation is limited to a few schools and a handful of classrooms. We hope it grows. The assignment is highly adaptable and open-ended. A health teacher could have students focus on health care access. A science class could address global warming. Letters could be addressed to representatives, agency heads, and appointed officials as well as the president. We look forward to seeing this project grow and evolve, and we'd like other teachers to get involved too.

 

What Is It?

 

We hereby name tomorrow—December 6th, 2016—as a national day of Student Voice, to kick off our ongoing First Tuesday Students Speak initiative. We hope that teachers, schools, and community organizations across the nation will seek ways to encourage students to articulate and express their concerns about the future. In letters, on social media, in mainstreammedia, we hope to provide students with a forum for expressing constructive messages to the government and to our president-elect.

 

How Can You Get Involved?

 

You can download the instructions (in both English and Spanish) by clicking on these images, or use the instructions typed below. 

 

 

Step 1: Write a Letter

 

This month, we're prompting students to write letters to president-elect Trump and mail them directly to Trump's organizational headquarters in New York: 

 

President-Elect Donald Trump

Trump Organization

725 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10022

 

One of the things we have observed at our own school is that part of feeling like you have expressed yourself fully comes from organizing your own thinking—doing this helps you to think through your feelings logically and it gives you a greater sense of authority.

 

When you write a letter, make sure you do these things:
 

  • State what you are concerned about and why it concerns you.
  • Identify what you want to see happen—what do you need from your president and your government?
  • Predict and identify a counter argument—either to dismiss it or to provide an alternative solution which is better.
  • Identify positive actions you will take in the future.
  • In addition to content, tone is important if you want to be listened to, if you want to be heard. Be assertive, direct, and honest—but also maintain a tone of respect and dignity.


 

 

Step Two: Document the process and the final product.

 

  • Take photographs of students writing and reading letters. Post these on social media with #FirstTuesdayStudentsSpeak and @TuesdayStudents.
  • Take videos of students reading important selections from their letters and post to social media with #FirstTuesdayStudentsSpeak and @TuesdayStudents.
  • Hold an event where students read letters aloud. Take videos and post them. Again, please post on the community page as well as on your own personal, class, and organization pages.
  • Make sure letters are mailed as close to December 6th as possible.

     

 

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