From household solid waste disposal in Panama to underage drinking in Northern Ireland, around 250 students from more than 30 countries are convening in Washington, D.C., today to present their public policy solutions to problems within their school districts.
“We felt there was a need for the students to hear from each other and see how their issues are really similar,” said Tam Taylor, director of public relations for the Center for Civic Education.
The students are participating in the International Project Citizen Showcase, a competition representing a culmination of the students’ work for Project Citizen, a program run by the primarily U.S. government-funded center.
Throughout the year the participants, ages 10-17, identified problems within their local communities and developed a plan aimed at encouraging local leaders to take action to solve those problems.
Now, over the next few days, they will present their findings to a panel of educators and show them off in the Russell Caucus Room.
“It is a chance to see what they are doing in their classroom and their community and is something to share with kids from all around the world,” said Rick Nuccio, the director of international programs at the center.
This is the first year an international competition has been held, and Nuccio said he was surprised by the level of interest and participation.
“Frankly, if you had talked to me two months ago I would’ve undersold [the event] and told you we should expect between 12 and 15 countries,” he said.
And while organizers said the issues faced by many of the school districts were surprisingly similar, some also saw the event as an opportunity to explore diversity.
“I am hoping students realize how good they have it when they go to school,” said Heather Fowler, an eighth-grade language and U.S. history teacher from Washington state who is bringing her class to the event. She added: “They look at Senegal, whose topic is having potable water, my students have no idea what that is like.”
Fowler’s students, did, however, investigate a topic that recently has been the subject of much debate: trans-fats in food.
With a presentation titled “Heart Attack on a Bun,” the students proposed that their Evergreen School District reduce by 80 percent the trans-fats served in the school’s cafeterias.
And like professional policymakers, the students realized the importance of negotiation.
Originally, Fowler said, the students had proposed a 100 percent ban on trans fats, but school officials told them such a level would be financially prohibitive so they returned with the lower goal.
They are still working with officials to get their proposal adopted, and Fowler remained confident it would be successful.
While program directors said many groups do try to implement their proposals, the students aren’t required to do so — the program is more about fostering civic engagement.
Currently, Project Citizen operates in around 70 countries around the world, but not all could attend because of the expense and logistics of flying students to the United States. Once they arrive in the U.S., however, the center pays for their stay in Washington.
“We obviously think this is something of an untold story [different] than what you see about American involvement oversees,” Nuccio said.