students in action

The Mikva Challenge

A Teacher's Perspective
by Michael Altman

One of my favorite Mikva programs is the Active Citizen Program, where students are trained by Mikva Challenge and the Chicago Board of Elections to serve as election judges. Students in this program also work to register young adults to vote, organize mock elections at their schools, and create public service announcements to motivate young adults to get their "voices heard" by voting. As an educator of more than 25 years, I have never seen so many students become so engaged in the active learning of politics.

After the election, students gathered at a workshop to discuss their experiences on election day, and many of them had recommendations for improving the voting process, particularly the training of election judges. Later, Mikva staff organized an opportunity for students to present their recommendations for reforms to the commissioners of the Chicago Board of Elections. Chair Langdon Neal was very supportive of their suggestions and promised to improve the training and recruitment process of judges. Students left this meeting feeling that their voices were truly heard and respected by a powerful authority.

In subsequent classroom discussions, I became gratified by how much the students learned and how excited they were about the starring role they played in the electoral process. Students also mentioned how their service in the polling place motivated many of their friends and family to vote. This experiential learning teaches that students can and should use their voice.

Michael Altman is a social studies teacher at Steinmetz Academic Centre, a public high school in Chicago, Illinois.

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