January 29, 2023

Civics skills students at Dunbar High School up the street from Capitol Hill were practicing their citizenship responsibilities this week: casting ballots for class representatives.

“We have the power, but if we don’t use it, what’s the benefit?” says social studies teacher Shelina Warren as students drop ballots in a shoebox. 

Why We Wrote This

Washington, D.C., students learn civics in the shadow of the Capitol, but does that matter? Most are more driven by opportunities to take responsibility for issues in their daily life, like addressing bullying or mental health.

She tells her students they’ve just engaged in the same process members of the U.S. House did in picking a speaker just a mile away on Capitol Hill over the weekend – minus the circus dimensions of 15 rounds of ballots. Their votes as citizens matter because they elect the representatives who elect the speaker, she says.

Does anyone know which “House” they’re discussing, she asks. 

“The White House?” offers one student.

“This is the White House,” says Ms. Warren, patiently pointing to a tabletop model. “This is the Capitol building.”

Discrimination is sophomore Asianay Butts’ favorite topic in Ms. Warren’s class, and it’s also what she worries about day to day – along with gun violence. 

Nationally, civics educators know that students respond well to hands-on opportunities to make a difference in their communities.

And that’s what Ms. Warren is all about: “I’m just trying to prepare my kids … to be productive citizens.” 

In the wake of last week’s gridlocked rounds of voting for House speaker, sophomore civics skills students at Dunbar High School gathered for their law and justice advocacy class this week just a mile up New Jersey Avenue from the U.S. Capitol to cast their own ballots for class representatives.

“Democracy means power to the people,” says social studies teacher Shelina Warren, passing out ‘vote’ stickers as students drop their green paper ballots in a red-white-and-blue shoebox. Several girls stick them on their cheeks. “We have the power, but if we don’t use it, what’s the benefit?”

She tells her students that they’ve just engaged in the same process that members of the U.S. House did over the weekend – minus the dimensions of a national circus – and that their votes as citizens matter because they elect the representatives who elect the speaker. 

Why We Wrote This

Washington, D.C., students learn civics in the shadow of the Capitol, but does that matter? Most are more driven by opportunities to take responsibility for issues in their daily life, like addressing bullying or mental health.

Does anyone know who’s third in line of succession to the presidency, she asks the dozen students fighting the fidgets of the last class of the day. 

There’s a smattering of hazy no’s. 

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