Madeline Fonseca, a senior at Oakland Tech High School, recently filmed a video in which she described her struggles since U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported her mom about four years ago for overstaying her visa. She and three other students produced and submitted the video as part of KQED’s “My Backyard Campaign” project, which received more than 100 submissions from young people filming videos on their smartphones about issues like gun control, climate change, education, abortion, and criminal justice.
“I hope by sharing this story, people can see how unequally we’re being treated, how families are being separated, and how much it affects us kids,” she says in another video KQED produced about her work.
Everyday there’s another head-scratching headline about the 2016 election. But if you look past the unprecedented happenings among the campaigns and candidates, there’s something else new: educators and young people like Madeline are using the election to tell their stories with digital media and learn about the political process in new ways.
“My Backyard Campaign” is part of a larger, national project from KQED and the National Writing Project called Letters to the Next President 2.0. In 2008, during the first Letters to the Next President project, teachers across the country guided their students in writing and publishing letters to the future president on an open-to-the-public GoogleDoc—which was brand-new at the time.
This time, the project reflects how times have changed. The issues have shifted, and so have the ways educators are using technology to teach kids about the election process, argumentative writing, and how to create their own media. Educators and young people can chime in to share their work with #2NextPrez, or participate in “annotatathons”—where young people in classes around the country can annotate the candidates’ speeches with gifs or videos. In the late summer, young people will be invited to formally publish their letters, in text and multimedia, to the new L2P 2.0 website.
All elections are tough to teach. But with both new technology and a contentious election, teachers are grappling with how to keep a classroom a safe space for students of all viewpoints.
“I really, really stress civil discourse,” Sue Witmer, a government teacher at Northeastern High School in Manchester, Pennsylvania, told the local news in a story about teaching the election. “There have been several times I’ve said, ‘Hey, we’ll all be civil while we’re tweeting even if the candidates aren’t.’ ”
Meanwhile, Ellen Shelton, the director of the Mississippi Writing Project and former high school teacher in Tupelo, Mississippi, stressed in a recent Educator Innovator webinar that teaching students to analyze the candidates’ arguments, accuracy, and rhetoric can be more of a learning opportunity for students than simply debating which viewpoint is right or wrong.
“Some students told me their opinions didn’t necessarily match their friends’ and families’ [opinions], so it took courage for them to do so in their own videos,” said Kathy Nichols, an English teacher at Pleasanton Middle School in Pleasanton, California, in an interview with KQED. Her students also submitted videos for KQED’s “My Backyard Campaign” project. “But it was nice for them to hear their own voice, and they were proud of themselves for doing it.”