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Civic Engagement, High School Style

By Claire Thornton | Apr 17 2015

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Last Thursday, a whole year’s worth of my work and research culminated into what I called a Civic Engagement Symposium. The symposium served as my final product for a course called Independent Study Mentorship, or ISM. The program is a Gifted and Talented/Honors class where students study a topic or profession with a mentor outside of school. This year I studied Political Science and Civic Engagement with Dr. Dhawn Martin, Lecturer in “Civic Engagement and Social Action” at St. Mary’s University.

I wanted to create a final product that would inspire and inform students, as well as give them real-world opportunities to increase their level of civic engagement. Thus, the idea for my symposium was born! In December I began inviting local community leaders to come and speak to students about civic engagement. I also talked to Deputy Voter Registrars, and began crafting ideas for presenting my research in an interesting way.

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The symposium was held in the Marshall High School auditorium during the school day, and my audience was made of seniors, with some juniors. John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” was playing from the auditorium speakers as Marshall students walked into the auditorium and received a voter registration card. For the first half of the event, the wonderful Molly Cox gave students a presentation on the importance of civic engagement. Afterwards, I briefly spoke to the audience about the problem of chronic low voter turnout.

My “shtick” was comparing different voter turnout rates to various college acceptance rates. For example, I showed students that the San Antonio voter turnout rate for local elections from 2007 to 2013 of 9% is comparable to acceptance rates at Brown, Duke, Dartmouth, and University of Pennsylvania.

Following the presentation portion of the event students got the opportunity to register to vote. Led by Mr. Dan Bolen, the Educators’ Voter Registration Initiative registered 66 students. In addition to getting registered to vote, students also experienced a real voting booth and handled sample ballots. These activities were provided by the Bexar County Elections Department.

My fellow Marshall students had a great time at the event. Throughout the day peers told me that a) they thought Molly was awesome, and b) they were glad to have gotten the opportunity to register, because they might not have done so otherwise.

The symposium was a big benchmark for me both personally and academically. It is the biggest project I have ever done and it was designed to impact peoples’ lives. I believe I succeeded, both in the goals I set for myself as a student and in the goals I set for myself as an agent for change.

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Claire Thornton

Claire Thornton is a San Antonio native and a senior at John Marshall High School in Northside ISD. This year Claire studied Political Science and Civic Engagement as part of her work for a class at Marshall called Independent Study Mentorship, or ISM. Dr. Dhawn Martin, Lecturer in Civic Engagement and Social Action at St. Mary’s University, mentors Claire. As part of Claire’s work for ISM, she volunteers with Battleground Texas and was a fellow of Wendy Davis’ 2014 Texas Gubernatorial campaign. This summer Claire plans to be involved with the Battleground Texas Summer Fellowship program.

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