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Penn students will conduct after school sessions twice a week to discuss democracy, branches of government, the Constitution, and what being a good citizen looks like. Credit: Julio Sosa

A new club at Penn aims to facilitate civic engagement opportunities for students at a local West Philadelphia school.

The Civic Youth Action Partnership will bring Penn students to the Benjamin B. Comegys School to teach fourth through eighth graders about civics. At Comegys, the Penn students will conduct after-school sessions twice a week to discuss democracy, branches of government, the Constitution, and what being a good citizen looks like. With a team of nine members, the group will begin running the after-school program this week.  

The club is part of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships’ University-Assisted Community Schools program. It was created by College sophomores Noah Moyse and Caroline Donnelly Moran, who participated in the Penn Program for Public Service this past summer. As part of the summer program, Moyse and Donnelly Moran had to write a paper proposing solutions for an educational issue at Comegys. After consulting with Aurora Coon, the UACS site director at the school, Moyse said they decided to focus on the “lack of civic engagement opportunities for Comegys students.” 

Coon said certain areas of Philadelphia have low levels of voter turnout or engagement, making it important to educate citizens. She added that the Comegys community "is affected greatly by policy and has a lot of needs that [it wants] to advocate for, but isn't always informed or empowered to do that advocacy." Working with students to increase civic engagement “could be a way to make a small difference in that large national problem."

A recent study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center found low rates of national civic knowledge, with only 39% of Americans able to name all three branches of government.

Moyse and Donnelly Moran said they worked with Coon and with Comegys' teachers to develop a lesson plan for the civics program. Coon and Donnelly Moran hope to help Comegys students engage with democracy, rather than simply teaching them information. 

“We try to really engage students in designing programs, leading their own learning, and making decisions so that they're choosing their own path, and they're empowered through their education,” Coon said.  

Donnelly Moran, who is also a copy associate at The Daily Pennsylvanian, added that students can be civically engaged in many different ways. 

“In addition to just focusing on voting as a [form] of civic engagement, there are also ways you can create change in your community that you want,” she said.

CYAP member and Nursing junior Sukie Chek said the Penn students plan to modify the prepared curriculum to reflect what Comegys students are interested in. Moyse and Donnelly Moran said CYAP will also organize a student council for the after-school program to give students experience in democratic participation and engagement in a community.

Many Netter Center programs, including ACTION and the Penn Reading Initiative, follow similar models of bringing Penn students to West Philadelphia schools for tutoring and after-school programs. However, CYAP will be the only program to focus solely on civic education.

Chek said she joined CYAP because of the opportunity to work directly with young students. 

“I really wanted to engage in something new and different,” Chek said. “I'm really enjoying that we can bring this resource to kids who might not have had the opportunity to have this beforehand.”

Coon was optimistic about the program's potential future. 

“You try things and learn what works and revise with the student input,” she said. “I can't wait to see how it evolves.”