This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
As Philadelphia prepares for the Democratic National Convention over the next couple of weeks, students will be learning about the convention and sharing their own ideas about politics as part of two new programs, the Youth News Team and the Civic Youth Experience.
The programs, which were announced at a press conference on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Philadelphia 2016 DNC Host Committee, will immerse students in the political process. They will cover the convention and learn about the importance of voting.
“We … decided that we wanted to do something to try to engage the young people in Philadelphia,” said former Gov. Ed Rendell, chairman of the host committee.
The 25 students of the Youth News Team will take on the role of journalists during the convention – something that Pedro Ramos, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation, called a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.” Each group of students will have a teacher to provide the team with direction.
“I’m confident that they will be inspired, and I hope that we that are older are inspired by the young people and the seriousness with which they’re approaching this and the experiences with which they’ll come out,” Ramos said.
The Philadelphia Foundation is among a number of organizations that is providing support to the programs.
The students were selected in a competitive application process that involved writing essays. The essays highlighted themes that students were interested in exploring as part of their coverage, said Craig Santoro of WHYY radio, one of the media partners. Themes included immigration, education funding, police brutality, poverty, crime, and the lack of sex education in schools.
The high school teams are from W. B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences, Philadelphia High School for Girls, Franklin Learning Center, and Scribe Video Center. The middle school students are from Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP), William Meredith Elementary School, J.R. Masterman Middle School, and Gen. George A. McCall Elementary School.
The program will give students extensive preparation before the convention and connect them with professionals in the field who can offer guidance throughout the process.
Superintendent William Hite noted that students will get the chance to witness history in the making – the nomination of a woman by a major party for president.
“Our students get first-hand coverage, and knowledge, and access to that,” Hite said. “I mean, I must say, I’m a little jealous.”
The Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee for the DNC has established partnerships with media and educational organizations – including WHYY; KYW Newsradio; PSTV, the TV arm of the School District; and the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement – which will each provide different opportunities for the students. The Host Committee also partnered with the Philadelphia Foundation and the Knight Foundation, which are helping to fund the program.
Paige Cheatham, an incoming 8th-grader at Meredith Elementary School, said that she is an aspiring broadcast journalist and that she hopes her experience at the convention will give her a preview of that type of work. Cheatham said that she thinks the convention will add to the political awareness she has gained in school and give her a wider platform to talk about some of today’s issues, such as gun control, police brutality, and immigration.
Cheatham acknowledged that it may be difficult to “live up to expectations,” but said that she is looking forward to this opportunity.
The second part of the program is the Civic Youth Experience, which is a joint project between the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) and the Committee of Seventy. It has two components, which are both centered on voting.
“This partnership makes possibility more than a notion; it makes it a reality for some of the most vulnerable young people in our city, and also the young people who are filled with the collective brilliance we need in this country to transform who we are and become who we need to be,” said Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, CEO of Philadelphia Youth Network, at the news conference.
In the first part of the Civic Youth Experience, students who are involved in PYN’s WorkReady program – which helps prepare students for different job opportunities over the summer – will become Election Ambassadors. As ambassadors, these students will be informed about the voting process, and they can bring back what they have learned to their communities.
The second part of the Civic Youth Experience will include a play, Voices of Voting, based on the battle for the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The play, which was written and will be directed by David Bradley, discusses both historical and current ideas about voting, and celebrates the role that young people play in politics. It will be performed over three days during the convention at Science Leadership Academy, Bradley said.
Said Fulmore-Townsend: “I promise you I can stand here with 100 percent certainty knowing that this city will never be the same after this convention because we have some of the brightest young people working to not only cover it, but to identify the ways in which the world can be better.”