Teens Advocating for Civic Engagement

By John Fuentes

What happens when adult allies continue to make authentic youth voice a priority? When High school students in various leadership groups from San Diego to Oakland, CA speak truth to power? When technology becomes a resource for across state collaboration? When young people meet up in Sacramento to speak to legislators about the challenges they’re faced with and how afterschool funding supports overcoming some of these challenges? Answer: a $50M ASES increase with the support of our “TACA”(Teens Advocating for Civic Engagement) youth.

TACA started a little over a year ago when a group of CA3 (California Afterschool Advocacy Alliance) members discussed how powerful it would be to bring more youth voice to the front lines of civic action. Myself, Brad Lupien (ARC), Donny Faaliliu (L.A. All Stars) and Aleah Rosario (CalSac) spent some time during 2018/19 school year unpacking what TACA should look and feel like.

Once a month from October to May in the 2018/19 school year approximately 8 to 12 students from 5 High Schools representing ARC, L.A All-Stars and Bay Area Community Resources (BACR) got on a Zoom chat and discussed issues they were facing in their communities and what action steps they were taking to help resolve some of these issues. With the support of CalSac’s resource guides and the support from afterschool leadership staff, TACA students learned the difference between service and civic action. They learned more about local government and what issues the local officials were passionate about. This work helped support an informed dialogue between TACA students and their local and state officials.

We found that the reoccurring challenges students were faced with in their communities were affordable housing, violence, suicide, and lack of equity in education. Whether students were attending JFK high school in southern California or Oakland Tech high school in the Bay Area, these issues were similar. Using Zoom video chats, TACA students had an opportunity to see, hear and learn from other students across the state and know that they were not alone doing work. Students shared ideas, action plans and goals for sustainability and systemic change.

TACA students expressed how cool it was to be able to connect with other students across the state, share their ideas and get feedback. How cool it was to see each other on a Zoom chat once a month and then meet in person for the first time in Sacramento; to know that they played a part in getting the $50M ASES increase because they shared their stories and mobilized.

Now, in year two, TACA has over 25 members from San Diego to Oakland, CA representing 14 high schools and 4 middle schools. Me, Brad, Donny and now Ayala Goldstein (CalSac) continue to support the TACA members as adult allies and coaches. This year TACA is made up of 1-2 students who are part of an existing afterschool leadership group and represent that group during our monthly Zoom chat meetings. The goal is for the two TACA representatives from each school site to join the monthly Zooms and share their learning with their peers and mobilize for Civic Action and change.

Affordable housing, violence, and education continue to be pressing topics for our TACA youth and their peers and we will continue to support them with their Civic Action goals. We have a few new goals this year which include: Supporting with the 2020 Census, getting people registered to vote and once again showing up in Sacramento on March 9th and 10th for the California Afterschool and Summer Challenge.

If you want to see, hear and learn more about TACA, please check TACA out at this year’s BOOST Conference as they lead a workshop on Thursday April 30th, 3:45-5:30pm entitled “Student- Lead Campaign for Civic Engagement.” You can also email me at john.fuentes@bacr.org or Ayala Goldstein at agoldstein@calsac.org