At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, TMA Social Studies Teacher, Karen Lee, started the first day of her US Government class trying to answer the question: Who votes? Looking at DC and national voting data, Ms. Lee and her students discovered that the lowest DC voter turnout rates occur in wards 7 and 8. The conversation sparked students’ interest in finding out why their community had lower turnout rates. “Voting rights and voter registration has always been important to me and so every student that I have taught has had an opportunity to register to vote through my class.”, says Ms. Lee.
Later in the school year, Ms. Lee and Rebecca Donnelly, another TMA Social Studies Teacher, introduced the When We All Vote Prom Challenge to her AP Government class as an option for their senior Issues to Action Law Component Project. With many students already considering voter registration as their project, this challenge added extra motivation and a chance to win more money for prom. So, AP Government students strategized various ways to get the school community excited about the June primary and register family members to vote. With the support of school leadership including Mr. Weeden, Mr. Zaki and Mrs. Stewart, students planned a spirit week that highlighted voting and activism and organized a party that included voter registration applications. Students also designed a shirt that represented the power of voting and created a QR code that could be used by a cell phone to connect to the DC voter registration website. In the process, students were able to participate in budget planning for prom by reviewing the current budget, and strategizing how to spend the winnings with help from their peers.
Though COVID-19 presented some challenges, their dedication to their project led to 100% voter registration from the class of 2020 and their teachers. In recognition of their hard work, TMA was 1 of 20 schools to win the When We Vote Prom Challenge. Students were able to virtually meet Michelle Obama as a surprise during the video announcement.
The momentum did not stop there, Ms. Lee was overwhelmed with excitement from students and staff on June 2nd as they participated in voting in the primary. “There is nothing more amazing and hopeful than seeing students excited about using their voices and their power in deciding who would best represent them in elected offices. It is truly taking what they learned in the classroom and putting it into action!” Ms. Lee said.
TMA also encourages voting and voter registration through our partnership with Mikva Challenge. Throughout the school year, students had hands-on learning experiences with local and national elections. Through the Election in Action Fellowship, students participated in the Iowa caucuses and South Carolina primary events where they canvassed, phone banked, and learned about how campaign offices run. Our student led activist group, Pathways 2 Power, hosted a candidate forum for at-large and ward 7 and 8 city council races. Ms. Lee said, “Once students get a glimpse of the ways to engage in politics, TMA Warriors always step up to lead our city forward”.