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Campus Spotlight: Public Achievement at Western Kentucky University


By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

In 2008 the American Democracy Project partnered with the Center for Democracy and Citizenship (CDC) on the Civic Agency initiative. This initiative seeks to further develop and operationalize the concept of civic agency. The goal of this initiative is to produce a series of national models for developing civic agency among undergraduates and to disseminate those models broadly throughout American higher education. The project combines the strategic and leadership position of AASCU schools in civic engagement – with more than 50% of the nation’s public four year college students, a strong record of educating local and regional leaders, and a flourishing network of ADP schools – with the pioneering theoretical and practical work of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship.

As part of our work with the CDC, Public Achievement has been identified as a proven model for developing student civic agency. Public Achievement is a youth civic engagement initiative focused on the most basic concepts of citizenship, democracy and public work. Public Achievement draws on the talents and desires of ordinary people to build a better world and to create a different kind of politics. Western Kentucky University has been one of the lead ADP schools involved in Public Achievement. Below is a brief synopsis of their powerful and inspiring work.

Public Achievement at Western Kentucky University

By Lindsey Ardrey, Western Kentucky University

Our morning group at T.C. Cherry, the Bowling Green Elementary School Kids, has decided to learn about animal rights, cruelty, and how to educate the public in becoming responsible pet owners.  In the last couple of weeks this group has explored powermapping, researched the various facets of pet ownership, and developed questions pertaining to animal health care, proper pet training, and animal laws and citizen rules to ask professionals. All to prepare them in speaking with leaders of organizations like the Humane Society, RePets, PetCo, and a peer’s mother who is a veterinarian.  In the coming weeks, the students will put their research efforts into action, formulating an informed action plan to educate their peers and community about their topic.

The afternoon the T.C. Cherry group is focusing on playground litter and increasing school awareness on taking care of their school and community. Over the last seven weeks, the group aptly named 2 Kool to Litter, has brainstormed various ways to reach their peers. Just last week they were featured on the school’s news broadcast WTCC News (for only the PA story, click this link and begin at time 3:44). Following this, the group’s powermapping exercise and research will lead them to school and community leaders/experts to contact and further develop their issue.

Students at Bowling Green High School are targeting poverty in Bowling Green. They narrowed this systemic issue, and are in the beginning stages of establishing a mentoring program with another elementary school within the district. PurpCorps, or PCorps, as they have named themselves, are now taking the necessary steps (creating a mission statement, organizing a meeting with their principal, setting up a conference call with projected elementary school principal, learning to draft a meeting agenda,  etc.) to turn their idea into a reality. By the end of the academic year, PCorps hopes to have identified students within the school to build the mentoring program, formed trusting relationships with those students, and developed a clear plan of action for the following year.

As you can see, the coaches, students, and site coordinators for each group are in the business of making things happen! The true strength of Public Achievement is not displayed in the end products. It’s in the youths’ recognition of their own power to think and act as civic co-creators. Students at both the high school and elementary school level started understanding their own power once coaches and site coordinators charged them with the accountability of their own projects. At the high school, productivity dramatically increased after the coaches placed the responsibility of leading and organizing weekly group meetings into the students’ hands. While writing the video script for the WTCC news themselves, under the guidance of coaches and Mr. Norris, the 2 Kool to Litter group learned that their own voices could be heard. After asking if the coaches or other involved adults would make phone calls for them, the Bowling Green Elementary School Kids were assured that through their preparation, they would be capable and competent enough to handle project tasks.

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