The Kids Are Alright – Vol. 15

Jessica Sutter , Chief of Civic Learning Initiatives

May 3, 2024

Excerpt crossposted from The Kids Are Alright, an occasional Friday afternoon email newsletter written by Jessica Sutter featuring three stories of youth voice, youth leadership, and adult allies supporting youth efforts to change their communities — and our country — for the better.

I had the chance last year to be introduced to the DC Brickyard of a great civic organization, +More Perfect Union. Last night I had the chance to join their Director of Brickyards & their Program Manager in a “fireside chat” focused on civics, service, leadership, young people & education — a pretty solid list of my favorite things! We had a great time & the video of our chat is above. I’d like to urge each of you to visit their website, learn a bit about what they’re building, and consider attending an event hosted by a Brickyard near you. While their work isn’t specifically about young people, they embody a spirit of optimism & possibility that tightly aligns with what I’m trying to cultivate in this newsletter. We need more of that in all aspects of civic life, so go give them a look. Now, on to the kids…

Constitutional Experts by Age 17

Last weekend I had the honor of serving as a judge for the We The People National Finals, hosted by the Center for Civic Education to showcase amazing high school students — and bona fide Constitution nerds — from across the country. The event is a culminating activity for students’ study of a textbook, We The People: The Citizen & The Constitution. Students from 28 states and Washington, DC participated in simulated Congressional Hearings in which they shared prepared testimony on a question related to their knowledge of the U.S. Constitution & American history, and then extemporaneously answered rounds of analysis questions from judges. In my role as a judge, I got to ask students about whether Brown v. Board of Ed had lived up to its promise, and whether there are lessons for modern citizens to learn from the nasty campaigning and electoral process changes instigated by the election of 1800. Students answered our questions with poise, creativity, and an impressive command of American history. But maybe the best part was the wild cheer that went up from a room after the judges had provided feedback and the students could celebrate their hard work. I was lucky to hear a Unit 3 Team from the National Championship team from Grant High School in Portland, Oregon and can confirm that their answers were as awesome as their team cheer. Bravo to all the students & teachers who put in the immense hard work it took to compete at the national level!

Student-Scholar Collaboration

A few years back, Washington, DC undertook a very cool and underutilized approach to generating long-term research on its education system. The DC Education Research Collaborative, housed at the Urban Institute, is designed to be a way for scholars and practitioners to work together to generate research that is useful to educators & policymakers and can help the District better understand what’s working & what’s needed in its education system. This year, the Collaborative added a new set of collaborators: students. And wow, did the students deliver! Students from the Columbia Heights Education Campus partnered on powerful research about food equity at their school — and their research drove change. They also presented that research at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference in Philadelphia earlier this month — something I found intimidating as a 30-something PhD student. Read all about their research here.

Youth Helping Educate Their Neighbors

There’s a lot in the news right now about student protests on college campuses and a lot of debate over whether students — and their universities — are acting in the “right” way. Let me say that I believe protest is both a protected right AND a fundamental form of civic engagement. Full stop. And…I wish that all of the ways students were working to be engaged civically got as much attention as what is happening at Columbia or Harvard. So let me share one powerful story from a group of young people in Nashville using community education as another form of engagement. 615YouthForPalestine ( is a youth-led effort to “display and preserve Palestinian history & culture through awareness & education.” These young people have organized pop-up exhibits on college campuses, in high schools, and at both an Islamic Center and an Episcopal Church, all to help the broader Nashville community learn about an issue which may be unfamiliar to many neighbors. As one person attending the pop-up shared, “This has provided depth…it’s more education than what you hear and see on the news from a side you normally don’t get.” Their work is inspiring — and driven by young leaders. Give it a look.

“Knowing that you’re advocating and doing what you can to support and to educate the community… I think this is our coping mechanism.”

-Amira Ayesh-Akins, 615 for Palestine co-founder, on how youth leadership on issues which matter to them has a powerful effect on their ability to cope with difficult realities they face.

Read the full newsletter here.

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