Let's K12 Better

Let's Talk About Civics and Youth Voice with Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen

April 05, 2022 Mom Of All Capes Season 3 Episode 4
Let's Talk About Civics and Youth Voice with Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen
Let's K12 Better
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Let's K12 Better
Let's Talk About Civics and Youth Voice with Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen
Apr 05, 2022 Season 3 Episode 4
Mom Of All Capes

What is action civics? Why is student voice so important, especially right now? How can we use informed civics and action civics more efficiently together? How can we expand our understanding of what equity in civics could mean?  So many questions!

Civic education plays an important role in building a more inclusive, participatory, and equitable democracy. In this episode, we sat down with Elizabeth Clay Roy, CEO of Generation Citizen, a national nonprofit committed to providing youth with the knowledge and skills they need to actively participate in our democracy.

Connect with Generation Citizen on Social Media:
Twitter: @GenCitizen
Instagram: @GenerationCitizen
LinkedIn: Generation Citizen
Facebook: Generation Citizen

Get resources to support your young civic participants! 

Send us your community letters!
Are you saddled with a troubling situation? Curious to hear what we think about a certain issue? Send us your questions! Your query may end up on the Let’s K12 Better podcast in our community letters section.  Send your celebrations and questions to this form or email us: LetsK12Better@gmail.com

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter: https://bit.ly/LetsK12BetterMail!
*Love our podcast? Rate. Review. Share!

The Let’s K12Better podcast is written and produced by Amber Coleman-Mortley, Garvey Mortley, Naima Mortley, and Sofia Mortley.
Music written and produced by Garvey Mortley

Support the Show.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What is action civics? Why is student voice so important, especially right now? How can we use informed civics and action civics more efficiently together? How can we expand our understanding of what equity in civics could mean?  So many questions!

Civic education plays an important role in building a more inclusive, participatory, and equitable democracy. In this episode, we sat down with Elizabeth Clay Roy, CEO of Generation Citizen, a national nonprofit committed to providing youth with the knowledge and skills they need to actively participate in our democracy.

Connect with Generation Citizen on Social Media:
Twitter: @GenCitizen
Instagram: @GenerationCitizen
LinkedIn: Generation Citizen
Facebook: Generation Citizen

Get resources to support your young civic participants! 

Send us your community letters!
Are you saddled with a troubling situation? Curious to hear what we think about a certain issue? Send us your questions! Your query may end up on the Let’s K12 Better podcast in our community letters section.  Send your celebrations and questions to this form or email us: LetsK12Better@gmail.com

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter: https://bit.ly/LetsK12BetterMail!
*Love our podcast? Rate. Review. Share!

The Let’s K12Better podcast is written and produced by Amber Coleman-Mortley, Garvey Mortley, Naima Mortley, and Sofia Mortley.
Music written and produced by Garvey Mortley

Support the Show.

Let's Talk About Civics and Youth Voice

civics, students, educator, teachers, community, democracy, equity, citizen, Generation Citizen, student voice, civic education, social studies


Amber Coleman-Mortley
Garvey Mortley
Naima Mortley
Sofia Mortley
Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen


Amber Coleman-Mortley  00:07

Hi! Welcome to the Let’s K12 Better podcast. This podcast is a project between me, MomOfAllCapes, and my kids.

Garvey  00:23

In our podcast, we will cover a variety of subjects involving K12 education and family life. 

Sofia  00:28

We will talk about the ways that parents, kids, and educators can improve K12 Education and family life. 

Naima  00:35

Hit subscribe to get alerts when new episodes drop; and follow us on social media @LetsK12Better

Sofia  00:41

Let’s jump into Season 3, Episode 4 of the LetsK12Better Podcast

Garvey  01:02

In this episode, we sat down with Elizabeth Clay Roy CEO of Generation Citizen, a national nonprofit committed to providing youth with the knowledge and skills they need to actively participate in our democracy. 

Naima  01:16

Named a 40 Under 40 Rising Star by New York Nonprofit Media and a Trailblazer by Community Resource Exchange, Elizabeth Clay Roy’s work is and has always been, centered on collaboratively building a more inclusive, participatory, and equitable democracy.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  01:33

Before we jump into this really amazing interview with Elizabeth, I must ask y'all what can adults do better? Or like what can adults improve, when it comes to elevating Student Voices Naima,

Naima  01:47

I feel like they can take like more time and like more consideration and to try to understand or like elaborate on what the student is saying better. Because in some cases, like they misinterpret what the students are saying, or like they implement it wrong. And that doesn't bring satisfaction to like the students, or like the community that they're trying to appeal to.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  02:16

I love that. I don't even think I need to reiterate what you said. Garvey, what do you think?

Garvey  02:22

Um, as well as this, I believe that people often underestimate the power of student voice. So not under estimating the power of it is also a huge step in understanding what the student has to say. Because I mean, if you underestimate it then you're not even going to care. And as well as, making sure that not one group of students are talking. Like we want to hear Black student voices. But we also want to hear Hispanic student voices, Native American student voices and Asian student voices, and even sometimes white student voices. So we want to hear everybody's voice.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  02:58

Awesome. Alright. Well, thank you both for your really important perspectives on this subject. We're now going to jump into our episode with Elizabeth Clay Roy.

Naima  03:19

We're delighted to have Elizabeth Clay Roy, CEO of Generation Citizen, a national nonprofit committed to providing youth with the knowledge and skills that they need to actively participate in our democracy.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  03:32

We are so excited to have you today with us. Welcome to the podcast, Liz.

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  03:39

So glad to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  03:42

Yes. Okay. So we like are superduper excited. We're going to just get started with our first question from Garvey.

Garvey  03:49

Let's start by having our listeners get to know you. If I'm unfamiliar with Generation Citizen, can you share a bit about the organization's mission and work?

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  04:00

Absolutely. So Generation Citizen, we champion real world democracy education, right. It equips young people with both the skills and knowledge needed to affect positive community change. And our work inspires robust civic participation by inviting middle school and high school students to engage directly with the local issues and institutions impacting their communities. And we do this in rural communities, in small towns, in suburbs, and in big cities like New York, where I'm based. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  04:30

And our organization also advocates for all young people to receive an equity centered civics education in schools. And we have more work to do together with lots of people outside of our organization to help make that possible. So through our programs, our policy work, and working with young people directly, we really are working towards a just inclusive and multiracial democracy that's responsive to all young people. And I look forward to talk more and I can share some examples of that about how we do that.

Garvey  05:00

Can you tell us about your own journey? What drew you to the field of participatory civics and how these experiences inform your work with Generation Citizen?

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  05:10

Yeah, I'm happy to. So I'm really new. I joined Generation Citizen last January. And this is my first time working at a civics education organization. But the issues that we're taking on are things that I've been passionate about my whole life; personally. Because for a lot of folks, our journey in social change base is both personal and professional. Personally, I was a really shy student in class. But I was really animated by politics, I was really animated by understanding what made change happen and how communities could be better. I liked going door-to-door and canvassing for candidates. Even though I was too shy to raise my hand, a history class. But I got excited about volunteering. I got excited about getting involved in in community life. And I felt so lucky to have one teacher, he was an African American history teacher at the high school. And he really noticed me when I got into ninth grade. And he noticed that while I was incredibly quiet and shy in like official school settings, when I was chatting in his office or talking with my friends about politics, I had so much to say. So he really pushed me and nurtured me to bring those two parts of myself together and have a sense of confidence in school by getting animated about what was going on in the community. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  06:40

Part of the way he did that, for me was really pushed me to, to do some public speaking. And he really mentored me and supported me to give a speech in front of hundreds of my classmates, and teachers at my school, when I was, like I said, still too shy to raise my hand in class. And I still remember how my hands shook on the podium when I was 14 and giving this speech, but that my voice didn't shake, because I knew that I had something important to say. That is what he had helped me understand. That what I was experiencing, and what I had to share was more important than being nervous. And what I love about Generation Citizen's approach because we really do professional development and offer curriculum to teachers, is really helping them spark that possibility for so many young people. So a lot of this is personal for me. And I'm excited about the fact that we, you know, directly impact through our curriculum through our support for teachers, almost 20,000 students each year, who I hope feel that spark in every part of their life. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  06:40

And on the professional side, I have, you know, really been committed to a pathway of social change that's about building a fair and inclusive society. Some of that has looked at economic opportunity. Some of its been around educational opportunity. And but my academic training, what I studied in college and graduate school, was actually urban planning. I think the reason I went into that was because not because I felt like I had all the right answers about how cities should be planned, or how neighborhoods should be organized. But I loved the notion of creating processes for community members to design and improve their neighborhoods, right? And that, to be a good community organizer, or city planner, it's not about saying you got the best ideas, it's about creating a space, so the wisdom of the community can come forward. And so I actually think there's, you know, a connection, even though what I'm doing now is hardly about planning cities directly. It's actually creating a process where hundreds of young people in Providence or in you know, in Harlem, where I live, or in different communities around the country, they get to be involved in community problem solving. And so I love that this path has brought me to a chance to catalyze positive community change through youth voice.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  09:05

Okay, first of all, that's beautiful, because equity is a love language, no matter how you express that love. So just want to give you a special shout out to that. And also just thinking about the ways that your teacher inspired you. So you know, educators who are listening, like please do not underestimate the impact of what you're doing every day and how it will change somebody's life. So like, yes, Liz! Yes! Also, can I just say one more thing that as we were talking about community planning, the kids and I and just so everyone knows we're on mute so that we do not interrupt her but like the kids and I were like, "Oh, my God!" Because Garvey's plays Roblox and one of the games that she likes is Blocksburg and that is literally all about like your planning your like the layout of things. And so you know, just want to say you never know where that will take you.

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  10:01

I love that. I love that. And one of my favorite projects that I was ever involved with was when I graduated from college, I moved to India and was involved in participatory planning. And we were really supporting I was volunteering, we were supporting community members, in talking about, like the sidewalks and the drains. And like the real core core infrastructure. Most of the people who are participating were over the age of 65. Right? They were retired, they had a, you know, the time to really get engaged in this process. But a lot of us were saying, "But wait, where are the young people? Where are their ideas?", And so we ended up bringing the Sim City, the game Sim City, into the elementary schools, in the neighborhoods we were working in. And brought in SimCity, as a game for third graders to play and use that as a chance to talk about their priorities for their community. So I am all about linking playing games with young people sharing concrete ideas about how to make positive change.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  11:03

Okay, well, you got some more fans here, because it was like, "I play that. I play that. SimCity Sims is the best." So like, let's like, move into some more about like, you know, action civics and you know, participatory civics. You know, we're throwing around terms that you and I who have been in the space understand. So Sofia's next question, will help those who are not in this space.

Sofia  11:29

We like to make sure we're speaking the same language by defining a few terms. What is action civics? How would you define equity centered civics education?

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  11:42

Those are great questions, Sofia. And so I'll start with how we think about action civics, which is also I think, called project based civics, experiential civics. In our case, it's a curriculum for 6th through 12th grade, typically government or history classes. And it complements the foundational civics knowledge that students find in textbooks and primary sources. And it builds on that. Some of the core fundamentals of this kind of curriculum... The first is about student choice. Students identify an issue that matters to them. They start by examining the strengths and needs in their communities. And they discuss and build consensus around one issue to address as a class. So it's not that each student picks their own thing, it's that they have to work together as a class, to identify one issue that matters most to them has to be a real life issue. And it's a topic that they choose, it can be in their school, in their neighborhood, maybe at the city level or at the state level. And students research and analyze the root causes of the issue they select. Once they've identified that root, cause they develop an action plan for how they can make change. Now they're doing this all built on the framework of understanding how decisions are made in their community. So they they're understanding the three branches of government, they're understanding who are the stakeholders in their community? Right, who's the mayor, who's involved in the city council or town council? What are the agencies that are involved in decision making and implementation around the issues that we care about? So it's this constant dialectic between- What are the structures and systems that they're learning about; and how can they take this learning to make positive change and do positive community problem solving. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  13:39

So students, over the course of one semester, students go on to implement their strategy around the issue that they've taken on, and their tactics can demonstrate the broad spectrum of how we might define civic engagement that can look like meeting with representatives of these agencies or in elected office, writing op eds in the newspaper, creating posters that they put around their school to inform their classmates about issues, creating petitions, presenting their issues, to community leaders. At the end of the semester, students present at a city wide civics day, and they are really demonstrating these communications and leadership skills they've developed. And then finally, they close by reflecting on their impact and approach and exploring concrete ways to remain engaged citizens. And if it's okay, I'll share a couple of examples because I always find... 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  14:30

I would love that. Yeah, 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  14:31

I always find examples help bring it to life. So we worked with some eighth grade students in Fall River, Massachusetts. And they were concerned about the effects of plastic pollution on marine wildlife. But they were also concerned about the way garbage made their community look and feel, right? So they're really thinking about like, what are the different impacts of this issue of plastic pollution? And at the core, they realize that as young people they actually felt like that plastic garbage in their in their community really didn't make them feel excited about staying in their community after they graduate. Like it was part of a feeling of feeling like "Oh, actually, I don't want to stay here and raise my family here or start my career here." And so they talked with each other about this. And they looked at what the root cause was, they knew if we just go and do a one day cleanup in the park, then it's just going to look like this again in three months. So they worked through an action, civics experience, their teacher, supported the students, helping them research the issue, and their city governments processes and history. And what they realized was, there had been a ordinance to ban plastic bags in their city, but it really hadn't gone anywhere. So that the students recognize, okay, this is a leverage point we can use. And so the students testified before the city council's ordinance committee to successfully reintroduce the ordinance banning plastic bags in their city. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  16:07

Now, this sounds... it's really, it's straightforward. It's also the kind of thing that a lot of young people, a lot of people of all ages don't know about what their communities ordinance committee does, right. And so it but what's powerful, and what I love about this process, is it really makes tangible, what are the steps to meet community change, and it makes it feel possible, and gives students a sense, a greater sense of agency, over their community as a result of participating in a process like this, as well as giving them a set of kind of academic skills around research around critical thinking and around communications, right? All of the amazing presentation skills you have to develop before you testify before your city council ordinance committee. Right. And so so that's a little bit about what what action civics is is all about. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  16:58

And, and I can take on the the second question around, you know, what equity centered or equity based civics looks like. So they're highly interconnected. And, you know, I think equity centered civics, and you know, really proud of the work that so many teachers and researchers and community members across the country have done around this through an effort called Equity in Civics that Generation Citizen, iCivics, and a lot of other organizations worked on back... 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  17:28

Shout out of that! 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  17:30

That's right! And, and worked on this great project to really define equity centered civics as inclusive, representative and relevant. And that it promotes diverse voices and draws on students lived experiences and perspectives. So that's where there's this really important interconnection between equity centered civics and action civics. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  17:48

Both approaches, say: Young people know things. Young people know things that matter. And and that young people should have an opportunity to bring that knowledge forward to support their own academic development, but also to make our communities better, right. And all communities deserve dignity, respect and resources. And that civics can be part of helping making that sale and making our communities more equitable. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  18:16

So that's how I think about equity centered civics. I'm sure other people have have good definitions as well. But I'll stop there.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  18:24

Yeah. Okay. So the whole time like, "YES", while on mute. One thing I have always continually said is quote, "The kids be knowing." Because they do. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  18:35

That's right. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  18:36

And so, right. And it sounds like action civics and equity centered civic education is helping kids, you know, and students, because I don't call them kids, young people collaborate to create these long term systemic changes versus, you know, I guess, implementing "Band Aid solutions" would be the best way. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  18:57


Amber Coleman-Mortley  18:58

I do have a follow up question for you, though. Like you talked a little bit about the role that action civics does play in building more inclusive and participatory and equitable democracy. Can you actually talk about how student voice really fits in here and like why it is so a such a critical component to this entire experience?

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  19:21

It's such a great question. And I think, for me, when I think about equity, in this moment in 2022, I think a lot about racial equity, for for all the reasons that that has been central to our national conversation. But I also think a lot about generational equity. And the, the fact that you know, whether you look at who's in elected office or who's in positions of institutional power and privilege, that is, you know, overwhelmingly folks who are older. And to me student voice is a principle that is important that any, any school, any educational environment, any organization, or more broadly our culture can adopt, that respects the perspective and wisdom of young people, and seeks to find formal channels that enable them to bring that wisdom forward. And so I think you can have, you can exercise principles of supporting student voice, in a school environment, you can exercise those in at the government level, right, we see more and more mayor's creating and listening to youth councils, right. Not just creating them so that they can sit to the side and be shown off but creating them and giving them opportunities to inform policymaking. And it's, it's really important that in I think that, you know, anyone who is in a position of institutional leadership should be thinking about what are the ways that if students are a part of, of our community, of our constituency, that we're creating formal channels for their voices to be recognized. You know, we've done some of that it Generation Citizen by recognizing that we need to have alumni and young people who are members of our board, right, who are governing the organization. That's been a step we've taken, in addition to amplifying student voice through our programming, we recognize that we've got work to do that, you know, in our own organization. So to me student voice is is essential for this broader conversation around generational equity, that I hope organizations like Generation Citizen can be full within the, within the field of civics ed. You know, I came in after a founder, our founder, Scott Warren, who was a student when he founded the organization. I'm not a student now, and, and I feel a great commitment to making sure that, in my role, I continue to ensure that I am listening to and accountable to young people and students as we take this work forward. And I always love opportunities to partner with youth-led organizations in our work.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  22:24

I love that. I love the term generational equity, again, "the kids be knowing". It's just something that I know that I support at the core, obviously, because you know, I'm dragging my kids along to have this podcast and deep discussions. Right gang? They're like, "Yeah,". But also like, I don't always think about the intentionality of generational equity. Right? Even with my experience with coaching and teaching students. Even with, you know, being parts of fellowships and starting fellowships. I just want to ask you one more question on the student voice component, because a lot of us adults, sometimes we don't get it right. And it's obvious that Generation Citizen is working on getting it right. So do you have any advice for folks who they may have a student council? Or they may think, "yes, we want to hear our students", you know, any advice for them as they're creating these and supporting like, these formal channels for young people to be recognized and to contribute to the larger ecosystem of like policies in their, in their spaces?

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  23:30

It's a great question. And it's, it's so great. I don't think I have a good answer for it yet. And I actually I would feel even most confident in an answer, if I was generating that alongside, let's say, one of my board members, who themselves is is a young person. I will say we are bringing on additional young people to our board. And so we had a conversation with a group of alumni. And they were precisely talking about the the power of young people on governing boards of nonprofits. And the need, I think, the you know, one of the core needs is to ensure that they're not that young people are not tokenized. Right. And that young people are not there to be seen but not heard or young people are not there to be part of you know, the the ceremonial parts of being on a board but not for the decision making about finances. It's really important that when we bring young people into institutional leadership roles and institutional advisory roles, that we're doing so with a readiness to hear them and be accountable to them directly. So that's, that's how I tend to think about it, but I know there are, I'm sure even more thoughtful perspectives that might come from, from young people who are currently having that experience in this moment.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  25:03

I love that I just thank you so much for just tackling it like you did. Yeah, yeah, I guess, you know, we will talk more about this offline, the my kids and I just about the ways that adults can be more supportive. So we will add our input before or after this is over. Thank you so much, Elizabeth. So, as we talk about structures and systems, strategies, you know, how we're helping young people use their voice and effective ways to make changes that they want to see. I think our next question is a really, really important one.

Naima  25:41

How can we use informed civics and action civics more efficiently together?

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  25:46

Great question. I mean, one of the things that I think is so visible, in light of the substantial challenges our world faces, whether that's with with COVID, whether that is with the challenges our democracy is facing, and the limitations of trust, we need more and better civics, in all places. And so what I love about the role that I'm in now is that I get to collaborate with the team members at other civic organizations across the country. And I think we have a shared understanding that we need to get the word out that civics education, in whatever way it is shared, whether it is grounded, you know, only in the kind of core texts, or just a grounded most deeply in the in the core text and in, you know, kind of understanding our history, whether it's grounded in in action and project based civics, or whether it's technology enabled, we need to make sure that young people are receiving opportunities to develop and express their civic identities more. And quickly. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  27:07

The Harvard Institute of Politics does a poll every year of 18 to 29 year olds. And in the most recent poll, it was really distressing to see how many young people really do not have a high regard for the state of our democracy, and even who fear that they might see a civil war in our lifetimes. So what we're facing in terms of kind of civic chaos, or civic despair is really serious. And so we need more. What's ideal, I think, is that combination of being able to, for a teacher to guide students through an honest history of our country of their community, and then bringing that forward to our current moment, where it's not that we, you know, kind of get to the end of the textbook and say, "Okay, well, here we are in 2020, or here we are in 2022. And, you know, and now we're at the end of the semester, and it's time to go." But no, the next part of our history is the one the students will write. It is so important, that as a part of high quality social studies, though I think the same is true actually, in other fields, I could talk more about action civics and science and stuff. But for high quality social studies experience, you want young people to, I want young people to recognize that history is what brings us to the current stage that we stand on. And what we do next is what matters most. And so it's really exciting, I think, to have that pairing of fundamental, you know, knowledge and a deep understanding of how we got to this place, so that we can both be prepared for and inspired to make good choices as a community going forward. So that's why I think hands on civics education is a really appropriate and natural pairing with any with any kind of traditional civics curriculum that schools may have.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  29:20

Yes, yes, yes, absolutely. Yes! I do want to just repeat one thing that you said, that just struck me, "the next part of our history is the one our students will write". Man, that's gonna be the quote of the episode. So, so obviously, I'm fangirling and I'm not ashamed. So, you know, let's talk about the reality though, right? Like, we want students to be able to have these kinds of experiences but right now, you know, keeping it 100 it is a tough time to be an educator, but let alone a civics and social studies educator. We got these COVID-19 stresses on schools, on educators, on admins. But then we also have things like, you know, book bans and policies that are anti-student, all kinds of not awesome, right? What advice or even encouragement do you have for, you know, educators in general, but specifically civics, social studies, and even history educators right now?

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  30:29

The most important thing I think we can do, and I think about this, as a parent, as much as I think about this, in my role at Generation Citizen, is to trust teachers. I think we are unfortunately, collectively failing, at holding up our teachers for the incredible role that they have played in supporting our students academic and social emotional development, over this period of intense collective trauma. And that they are well equipped, because of their training, because of their experience, to be able to make good choices about kind of the developmental level of their, of their class, and navigate these issues appropriately. Right? We have very, very strong structures in place through state standards and other structures that provide a framework for teachers to operate within. And then the art of teaching is that they know their student population, they know the students in their class, and they know what they're navigating in terms of a real world experience, and are well equipped to help use civics education, or whatever subject they teach, to help their students take that next step in terms of their own academic journey. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  32:00

One of the things that we hear from teachers, and particularly during the height of the pandemic, when a lot of teachers were still teaching hybrid or remote, was that what they like about project based civics education, is that it was really engaging for their students, they had students who might not be turning on their cameras, for the traditional lessons are for the prior semester. But that when it came to the days when they were, you know, talking about which issue they would pick and doing the root cause analysis and having a guest speaker who might be coming to talk about their issue, the cameras were on the students were engaged and connected. What feel so important, as we move into this next phase for this country, when we know that re-engaging students in their classroom re-engaging them in the community of their school, that we should use every tool available to us to make sure that students feel engaged. And one of those tools is for a really good civics or history class, to be one where you can have appropriate conversations about current events, or bring the power of the text, the power of your what you're reading, and connect that in a way that is relevant and engaging for students. That's what great teachers do. And we just we, I, you know, as individuals, it's so important that we trust teachers, and that if we have a question, yeah, absolutely, you know, reach out to them. But but come from a position of, you know, teachers didn't come into these roles to harm students, right? They come into the, into the role to, to really guide our students to be able to develop into their best selves. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  33:49

And one thing I, one person who I think about a lot is my Great Aunt Ruth, who passed away a couple of years ago at the age of 98. And she was a teacher of this was the subject it was called in the 50's "Social Problems". And she had been a history teacher, a French teacher, what they called it in the year she was teaching it, Social Problems. And what the way she was teaching it, it wasn't depressing, right? We're talking about Jim Crow Era, North Carolina, she was teaching Social Problems. But that was a she has shared with me and I've heard from others in the family, one of the most motivating exciting classes for students that left them feeling powerful. Left them feeling like agents of change. And so I just I really want us collectively to be able to lift up and cheerlead our teachers and make sure that they feel affirmed and supported in their challenging roles, and that we recognize that our young people, they're in the world around us with all these challenges. Why would we take away the tools that help them make sense of it? Why don't we take away the tools that help them to make a better tomorrow and to feel a greater sense of hope? Because this isn't the only dark time we've seen. We've seen dark times before and come through them. And the power of honest history is to help young people see the past to do that, too.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  35:19

Yes, yes, yes, Um speaking of tools, right, and not wanting to take tools away, and like making sure that our young people have resources. I'm thinking of like, well, what are some of the resources that can help? What are some resources that Generation Citizen also provides that can support this?

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  35:37

So one of the things we did it at Generation Citizen, in the earliest stage of the pandemic, back in the spring of 2020, was create a set of tools under the Democracy Doesn't Pause campaign, and that was because our work is typically directly focused at teachers in a classroom environment. But because so many students were, learning from home, we created materials that are available for teachers, for students directly, and for their parents, and did that in English and in Spanish. And so the Democracy Doesn't Pause page is kind of an entry point into action civics, for those who are interested in and thinking about how they can bring that into, you know, their their family activities. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  36:25

You know, I think that some of the resources that, sadly, a number of the organization in the civics education field, had to create after the, the experience of January 6, then, and then commemorating that this year, I think there are a lot of, you know, good tools out there that help parents, with kids at different ages, to make sense of challenging moments in our country. And think about ways that, you know, that they can help them navigate, navigate those, those moments and navigate the media images that they might see. The last one I would say is a little bit closer to home. And it's just kind of candid about how I tried to show up as a parent. And that is, you know, show rather than tell, right? So when I am engaging in, I've gotten more involved with mutual aid in my community over the last couple of years, I bring my daughter with me, right? She's old enough to, to help us kind of pack pack food in our community refrigerator. And for us to then use that as an opportunity to talk about food insecurity in our neighborhood. And so thinking about ways that once our kids are, you know, old enough to use their hands to help make our community stronger, that's something that we can bring them into doing on a regular basis. But I don't have to tell you, because this is a family podcast. And so you all are walking that talk better than anyone else.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  37:59

We appreciate that. So so very much and just want to say I like briefly looked over this Democracy Doesn't Pause resource, like I'm like, "Oh, yes". I hope it's okay. We will be linking this in the show notes. This is amazing. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  38:15

Please. Thank you. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  38:16

Yes, yes. And then speaking of family civic engagement, this segues perfectly into the work that you're doing with your daughter. That's awesome. Segues perfectly as just a great example, for our next question. So Garvey... 

Garvey  38:34

Our audience includes parents, educators and students. What should parents understand about the importance of action civics and student voice?

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  38:43

I love that question because I think parents are a really important stakeholder in communities, to be able to name the vision that they have, for how they're had their young people how their kids will develop as as adults and be prepared to engage when they by the time they graduate from high school. Schools have historically had a civic mission. But I think over the last many years, we have shifted our attention very deeply into the college and career readiness, role of schools and many parents attention has followed in that direction as well. Now that's really important. I and I actually can get really excited about the way in which I know that Generation Citizen's work also supports you know, those leadership skills, communication skills, presentation skills, that are part of is preparing young people for all of the ways that they will engage in the world. But I think parents have an opportunity whether this is through school boards, or through conversations with the principal and others in their school community to reinforce that they're interested in the schools having the civic mission that, that they were historically meant to have. And, and I think doing that in a way that respects and honors, you know, their young people's journey, or doing that in a way that looks like actually encouraging their young people to themselves speak up for that, right, I think is really powerful, and is a positive step that can be taken in this environment where the perspectives of all parents aren't, aren't necessarily being heard. 

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  40:33

Um, you know, my parents, who, you know, I also regard parents as kind of first educators, you know, they didn't spare details about their experience growing up. They, you know, we're always eager to share books and documentaries, and, and, and share personal stories and helped me listen to elders, so that I would have an understanding of the complexity of American history. I actually think I was raised in a deeply patriotic home, because they had a kind of critical patriotism. That they I saw them bringing into practice as active patriotism, because they had a set of experiences that were in fact challenging that because they had a set of experiences growing up in the United States that they did not feel lived up to American values. They themselves were involved. And they were involved through supporting, volunteering for local candidates, they were involved by getting involved with community based organizations, they were involved in these ways. And I saw them practice that. And so I learned at their side. And so by time I was a teenager, and ready to develop more of that on my own right, not not under their wing. I had witnessed that as that you can hold critical patriotism, alongside a deep sense of hope, and real sense of agency and power. Like that's the thing that I find is just so in my mind so important about any good civics education should leave students feeling more powerful than when they enter the classroom, they should feel like they can make change. And that's wonderful. And I want that as a parent. And I want that as an educator for our young people. And frankly, I want that as a citizen to because I want the rising generation to help make this the inclusive, multiracial democracy that we all need.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  42:39

Same same. I just love the very James Baldwin approach to looking at our democracy, clear eyed, while also being excited to be a person who can help make things better. So I just I really appreciate your perspective on that. Wow, we have gotten down here to the end, which has been super amazing journey with you, Liz. So we have one final question, Sofia, you ready?

Sofia  43:16

Where can people find you? And what else would you like to share with our listeners?

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  43:21

Thanks, Sofia. So folks can find me and find us at www.GenerationCitizen.org. And we are on all the socials. And so it can be found there. I think it's @GenCitizen for a lot of them. And this has just been such a joy. What I would like to share is that I think we need many more intergenerational multi-generational media platforms that create opportunities for us to be in rich dialogue together. I have so enjoyed this conversation and welcome the chance to, to stay in touch and connect with any of your listeners, and as we I think are all working to to really try to strengthen this country. So thanks for the opportunity to chat today.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  44:11

Well, thank you so very much for just being willing to take time out of your busy schedule, to share what you do and like how you're thinking about the work that you do this very, very important work. What do we say gang? 

Group  44:25

Thank You!

Amber Coleman-Mortley  44:27

Thank you so very much. And you know, if ever you want to pull up a seat at our table, whether the mic is on or not, you are more than welcome to join us. We really really had the most amazing time. Thank you so very much, Liz.

Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen  44:41

Thank you. I did too and I'll bring my daughter with me next time.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  44:44

Yes. Can't wait! 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  44:50

Elizabeth dropped so many gems and I encourage everyone to come back multiple times and listen over and over again. Make sure you write down some notes rewind. Whatever! My favorite line from our interview was this, "the next part of our history is the one our students will write". It's so important for young people to realize that their participation in building a stronger democracy can't wait. We need them now. And we need adults to not only value youth input, but also mentor, guide and encourage young people, pour into them, pour into their passions, encourage them to use those passions to make our society better.

Garvey  45:34

If you enjoyed this conversation, and you want to learn more, we encourage you to check out Elizabeth Clay Roy, Generation Citizen, and the Democracy Doesn't Pause resource for classrooms and families. We've linked everything you need in the show notes.

Garvey  45:57

What's on your mind? Do you have a question, an issue, or a celebration to share? Send it to us and we’ll discuss it.  Share what’s on your mind… the link is in the description, or send your questions to LetsK12Better@gmail.com. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  46:16

Alright, so we are back again with the segment of community letters. What's on your mind? Again, please share with us we want to discuss whatever is on your mind. The link is in the show notes. You can also email us at LetsK12Better@gmail.com. This what's on your mind comes from an educator. Again, we don't tell any information about the person. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  46:44

Dear Let's K12 Better podcast crew. Love that. I am an educator and a parent and I found it challenging to balance working and making sure I'm checking in with my kids who are ages 7 10 12 and 15. Wow. Alright. Yes. What is your advice for families hoping to connect more deeply, but they seem to not have enough time? 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  47:12

Alright, so we're gonna address this educator, thank you so much for your question. Sofia, what do you say,

Sofia  47:21

Um, I think like, mostly 'cause I'm a child like... And like, I'm not gonna say my mom looks a lot. But like, sometimes she works and like, it's like, kind of a lot. So like, maybe like, at night, you know, we sit, cuz we most of the time we have dinner all together on the kitchen table. So maybe, like you can talk like, how's your day like, mostly for like, maybe even 10 to 15 minutes at the least. And also, I think that like, you can like play games like, um, like after work or after dinner, you could play games with your family or your children, or like watch a movie or snuggle around on the couch.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  48:12

So you said like... doing, being intentional about finding the quick moments that you can spend together? 

Sofia  48:20

...and new ways and new ways.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  48:22

Okay, I love the snuggling around the couch. 

Sofia  48:26

Going on a family trip or something? 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  48:28

Okay. Okay. I love that. Thank you so much. Hopefully this helps this educator who's trying to balance a lot. Garvey, what do you think? 

Garvey  48:36

So you mentioned that you are an educator, and I don't know what kind of educator you are. But you I'm going to assume that you're a teacher and teachers have a lot of stuff to grade. So I do understand that, that might be one of the reasons why don't have time to hang out with your kids. And that's why I also want to say that what Sofia said is kind of unrealistic if we're thinking about it in that way. So I would say you know, like when you're having a break, you can ask them how their day is going if they are homeschooled with you. Or maybe right when they get from school and they're having a snack, you can talk to them. Maybe while you're making dinner, you can ask them if they want to help you and then that way you're bonding by making dinner together. And you can also have a conversation about how you guys's day went. So like maybe just incorporating them into daily tasks instead of creating new tasks that might take more time to do so, and more time out of your schedule that might not stick. If you know what I'm saying... 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  49:36

Your sister's being a goofball which made you laugh and I'm so sorry that she interrupted you like that? Chill dude. Is there anything else you want to add to that? I think you make some really great points. Anything else you want to add?

Garvey  49:50

I want to add that... Yeah, I'm good. I'm done.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  49:53

Okay, cool. I really do like the fact that you are being considerate of how much time it takes to be an educator in your response. So thank you so very much for that. 

Garvey  50:06

Yeah, you're welcome. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  50:08

Alright, Naima, what advice do you have for this educator, who is looking for ways that families can spend more time together when they're strapped for time? What do you think? 

Naima  50:21

I completely agree with what both Garvey and Sofia said. But I, but I also think that adding onto a kind of like incorporating them into your daily tasks, taking time away from your work, to hang out with them. And I know that's kind of hard., if you're an educator, especially if you're a teacher, or like someone who works hands on in education. But like taking like a 30 minute break from grading papers on the weekend to go somewhere with your kids really quick, or go on a walk with them, or eat lunch with them. And I think that could really have a positive effect.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  51:06

Thank you so very much. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  51:08

Yeah, I think my kids summed up a lot of like practical and tactical ways in which families, you know, finding those little moments being very intentional about the ways in which you find hangout time and moments to connect. I do want to speak just to like the mental health component of all of this. I understand that, you know, I used to be a teacher and a varsity coach. So not only was I teaching a full day, but then I would go and spend like two hours after school or on the weekends, you know, for practices or games. And it was so worth it. I loved my students, I loved every moment and every opportunity that I could see their growth and development. But also, as a parent, I did feel as if I'd never had enough time to spend with my kids to give them the attention that I wanted them to have for me as their mom. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  52:10

What I would say is, you know, don't be hard on yourself educator, make sure that you have a wonderful support network, I don't know if you have a partner or spouse, or family that is nearby that can provide additional care and attention that your kids are going to need. But I know I had that. And that was wonderful. Um, I'd also say, you know, making, prioritizing and obviously being organized teachers tend to be Type-A people anyway, and super organized with all their binders with the color coded, you know, dividers. But keeping it all in perspective, because your kids who you made are only going to be this age that they are for this amount of time, and then it's over. So you really want to make sure that you do want to be the best educator that you can be. But you also want to make sure that you're very intentional about letting your own kids know how special they are in your life. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  53:12

So that's the advice that I would give, you know, lots of hugs, lots of kisses on the forehead, lots of high fives, you know, lots of, you know, conversations, you know, my mom was a teacher, we would have one-on-one conversations in the car ride after a basketball game, you know, which would make up for time that we'd have at the kitchen table together, because we wouldn't have that much. So, you know, just finding those little moments where you can have those heart to hearts, especially with your teenager, you have a 15 year old, so they're going to be out of the house soon. So just make the most of every moment. Soak in every moment. It's not easy. Balancing it all is hard. But you know, I know, teachers just have an immense amount of love in their heart. So I know that you can make it happen.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  54:05

Alright, we're at the part of the show where it's coming to an end. Garvey, we always ask our listeners, what do we hope for them until we're with them again? So I'm gonna ask you, what do you hope for our listeners until we are with them again?

Garvey  54:21

Okay, I hope that our listeners, even if they are not educators, take our advice for the educator, because there's a lot of people who have a job that's similar to an educator where it takes up a lot of their time. And they can't talk to the kids hence leading to they don't even know their kids, to be honest. It's just like an object in their house. So I would say like, use that advice. And what we were basically saying is the daily tasks that you do that you are able to incorporate them into, try to do your best to incorporate them into that. And you know, you already listened to what we said for examples and stuff. So...

Amber Coleman-Mortley  54:55

Yo... I love it. I love it. Love it, love it. Naima, what do you hope for our listeners until we're with them again?

Naima  55:03

I hope that they get to know their kids. And, you know, I don't normally say this, but since it's getting warmer out, go outside. Maybe go outside with them. I don't know. Yeah.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  55:14

Hey, okay. I love it. Alright, Sofia, what do you hope for our listeners until we're with them again?

Sofia  55:21

I hope that everybody you know, has a great week and goes outside. And like, you know, get some exercise because it's getting hotter guys. So, I mean, we don't really have an excuse anymore.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  55:32

You don't? We don't. Thank you. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  55:34

Alright, here's what I hope for all of y'all listening. I hope that you guys have a great week, obviously, like my kids said, "Get outside". But also, let's remain civically aware and civically engaged. There's a lot going on in the world politically that we should be paying attention to, we should be talking about with our kids. So take moments to have a discussion with the young people in your lives about what's happening in the media. Yeah, like that's pretty much it. So just civic awareness is what I hope for our listeners and a good week

Sofia  56:20

Thank you for listening to the Let’s K12 Better Podcast. 

Garvey  56:23

You made it to the end… Please like, subscribe, and share.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  56:27

We want to hear from you. Connect with us on social media @LetsK12Better on all social media platforms. Or connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Clubhouse @MomOfAllCapes. The Let’s K12 Better podcast is available on every podcasting platform; so if you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to rate and review our podcast. This is a family project and your feedback helps us grow. Thank you so much for listening.

Naima  57:01

See you next time!

What can adults improve when it comes to elevating student voices? (Garvey, Naima, and Sofia share their thoughts)
What is action civics?
How would you define equity-centered civics education?
Where does student voice fit in building a more inclusive, participatory, and equitable democracy?
How can we use informed civics and action civics more efficiently together?
What advice or even encouragement do you have for, you know, educators in general, but specifically civics, social studies, and even history educators right now?
What should parents understand about the importance of action civics and student voice?
How can people connect with Generation Citizen and Elizabeth Clay Roy?
What do we hope for our listeners until we are with them again?