NEWARK, NJ - A new civics course being offered to Newark public high school juniors is sparking interest in local government and community affairs among the students.

Solutions Civics is a 10-hour curriculum component that combines solution-oriented problem solving with education about city government and accessible opportunities for citizen leadership. 

At the end of the year, the students were asked about the class. Slightly more than half of the respondents said they feel more likely to engage with local government and community of affairs because of the curriculum.

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Here is how the students reacted:

  • 91% said Solutions Civics was very/somewhat useful

  • 53% said taking Solutions Civics made them much/somewhat more likely to participate in local government, politics, or community affairs

  • 86% said course videos were very/somewhat useful

  • 79% said the main text, “Citizen Power,” was very/somewhat helpful 

One University High School student said, “I now feel that I have a say in the community.”

A Technology High School student appreciated learning to identify and understand problems and proposing solutions as well. 

The free curriculum was developed by The Citizens Campaign, a group that aims to empower service-minded individuals with tools to help them get results on issues they care about. 

Newark Board of Education unanimously approved the course in August for the 2018-2019 school year. The program went into effect in the spring and taught as a unit for United States History II. 

“We’ve done this in other classes and this is the general reaction we get,” said Rob Horowitz, a spokesperson for The Citizens Campaign. “Students are learning about their home city and how they can get involved and that’s appealing.” 

Citizens Campaign administered the surveys, 690 students responded. The feedback from teachers and students will be used to improve the course for the upcoming school year. 

For the pilot year, interactions were generally favorable. Teachers struggle in general with a lot of requirements, so the process was a simple as training teachers on the modules and getting them up to speed with the materials, said Horowitz. 

When recent Science Park High School graduate Bradley Gonmiah learned last summer that the Newark Board of Education was considering the Solutions Civics curriculum, he urged them to accept. 

He had zero personal knowledge of the curriculum outside of what he heard at the Newark Civic Trusts meetings that he began to attend. He also knew that civics was not being taught in the district. 

“There was a vacuum that needed to be filled with something, even if it was experimental,” said Gonmiah. 

Teachers plan curriculum in advance so when they found out that the civics course was planned as a requirement for US History II in August, it caught people off-guard said Gonmiah. 

He recalled one teacher in particular who worried about implementation and thought the topic was too important to not be done well or rushed through. 

Gonmiah says the 690 survey respondents and only 53% of students who said that they feel more likely to participate in local government validates the teacher’s concern of not being able to maximize the curriculum to the fullest extent possible. 

The Citizen Campaign wants to improve communication with teachers as the way forward for next year, said spokesperson Horowitz. 

“The aim should always be 100% of empowerment for students going through the program. We need to be more diligent about making it more useful for students to actually change their community,” said Gonmiah. 

“Knowledge is powerful,” he said. “But you still need to be able to use it.”