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Arizona State University's School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership hosts its Civic Leadership Institute for high school students each summer. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had to change plans. Rather than canceling the program, the school's faculty and staff adapted the weeklong immersive program into a virtual learning experience held via Zoom.
Now well versed in online classes and Zoom meetings, the high schoolers participating were prepared for the virtual nature of this year's program, which was no different than their last spring semester.
“The students have been really active and excellent in sharing their thoughts and opinions,” said Associate Professor Adam Seagrave. “They are really articulate and thoughtful students, and I think it really gives those of us who are older hope about the future of the American republic.”
When asked what it was like finishing his junior year online, Jesus R., a senior from Phoenix, said, “It was certainly new! New experiences make us better and make us adapt better ... you learn to still function with what you have and with what’s available.”
The theme of this year’s Institute was ”The American Constitution in Action." The lessons and discussions explored the ways in which the longest-standing constitution in history has leaped off the page and into the lives of the American people.
“In the Civic Leadership Institute, we are trying to educate American citizens, particularly young American citizens, who are preparing to exercise their full rights of citizenship,” Seagrave said. Seagrave developed the curriculum alongsideprofessors Peter McNamara, Sean Beienburg and Zachary German, and postdoctoral fellow Jakub Voboril.
Video by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership
“We wanted to draw that connection between the Constitution, which we always try to educate our students and citizens about, and current moments, which involve so many pressing matters, and see how those two things connect with each other,” Seagrave said.
“As most of us are going to be entering the realm of voting within the next few years, it’s important to understand how our nation was founded and what ideals our nation was founded with,” said Erik F., a senior from San Tan Valley, Arizona. “While going into voting, keeping in the back of our mind what our nation was founded on and how we want it to progress.”
This year, the institute virtually hosted over 30 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from across the country.
For Erik, this was a chance to talk with other students who are experiencing current events in a different part of the country than him. “COVID has affected all of us, but it’s interesting to hear how it has affected other people,” he said.
“It’s really heartening to see how excited they have been and how open they have been to learning about history, our structures of government and how those things are really relevant to the current issues that they really care about,” Seagrave said.
For some students like Jesus, the Civic Leadership Institute is a chance to figure out what he is interested in studying in college. Jesus wants to become a lawyer or work in law enforcement — he wants to be able to apply the law in the best way he can to serve his community.
“By joining this program, it will mature me and my understanding of how the law works in the United States,” he said. “I feel like there are so many flaws in our system that just by bettering my understanding, hopefully, I can make an impact on my community here in Arizona.”
The week culminated in a discussion with former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl. Given the theme of this year’s institute, it was really valuable to have an experienced statesman of recent American politics speak to the students, said Seagrave.
Though the third annual Civic Leadership Institute was held in a different format, the overall consensus was that it was valuable and worthwhile for the students and faculty.
“I think it’s important to have a well-rounded view of what’s going on in the world … it will broaden my perspective and my views of the people around me and the way the world functions,” said Nicole S., a senior from Oro Valley, Arizona, who plans on studying nursing in college. She said participating in the program was a way for her to explore interests that will supplement her education.