Last year, Natalia Charron’s Constitutional Law students wanted to spread awareness about low voter turnout rates in Texas and to motivate YES Prep students to register to vote. “They wanted other students to understand that voting isn’t just about presidential elections, but about local elections as well and communicating to those in power that people are paying attention,” Charron said. Charron collected their ideas and added them to a lesson plan template. Since then, the Constitutional Law class’s ideas have spread across the district and resulted in the registration of many eligible YES Prep seniors. More importantly, the class’s ideas have spurred student interest in advocating for voting rights.
Early this fall, the lesson plan was shared with other 12th grade social studies teachers through Content Teams— teachers of the same subjects and/or grade levels, who meet to collaborate, share resources, norm grading, and develop instructional strategies.
“It didn’t take a lot of convincing to get teachers on board with using the lesson. Teachers were looking for ways to talk about the election and to get kids registered,” said Michael Dies, the high school social studies Content Specialist, who oversees curriculum and assessment for 10th-12th grades. “We aim to build a bridge between what we’re teaching in the classroom and things that are happening in the real world. We want to empower kids to take action and engage in authentic political activism.”
The lesson opened with a student discussion of President Obama’s 2016 remarks at Howard University’s commencement ceremony.
“Even if we dismantled every barrier to voting, that alone would not change the fact that America has some of the lowest voting rates in the free world.”
Students then reflected on Texas’s voter turnout rates, among the lowest in the country, and determined whether they were eligible to vote or not. Those who were eligible were given instructions to complete their voter registration online and tasked with printing the registration to mail on their own. Those who were not eligible discussed how to influence the political process through advocacy.
Teachers were encouraged to modify the lesson to fit their own classrooms and contexts. Katy Leven, a Course Leader for economics and government, incorporated the plan into a larger research project on voter turnout. “We not only looked at the facts of low voter turnout, we discussed what factors caused it to be so low. What regulations are in place that make it difficult for people to register or to go out and vote?” Leven said.
Both Leven and Dies believe that the lesson will be useful even when it is not a presidential election year. “This lesson definitely confronts the misunderstanding that a presidential election is the only one that matters,” Dies said. “Kids could explore the importance of local and state elections and see how atrociously low the turnout rate is for those elections. Only 30% of eligible voters are voting and that fact is so eye-opening for kids.”