Bringing Learning Alive at ‘City Hall High’

by Trina Moyles, Faculty of Extension

It wasn’t what high school students would’ve expected from Edmonton’s City Council – tweeting, speed dating with city councillors, and arguing for and against rave culture in the city in a mock council meeting – but it was exactly what took place when the Office for the City Clerk teamed up with the Edmonton Public School’s (EPS) Legacy program to organize a day-long workshop for 40 diverse high school students on municipal and civic engagement.

“It’s the goal of what we do,” said Mavis Nathoo, organizer with the Office of the City Clerk, “we help citizens answer the questions – how do I get involved? Why? What’s the best way?”

Nathoo and fellow organizer at the Office of the City Clerk, Sara McKerry, wanted to make the day- long workshop for Edmonton’s high school students ‘fun, participatory and interactive’.

The Centre for Public Involvement (CPI) partnered with the Office of the City Clerk to capture the student experiences learning and impact of the workshop. They explored youth’s perceptions of what it means to participate, including barriers and changes as a result of participating in the day. As a research centre for excellence in engagement, CPI is motivated to learn about political efficacy of youth and how citizenship learning is happening in the City.

“CPI came in and did an amazing job because not only did they measure learning, but they also measured attitudinal change, development of skill but the attitude of “yes, I can get involved!” Nathoo exclaims.

The highlight of the day’s activities included a mock committee meeting and a mock public hearing that both focused on issues that mattered to both youth and the city of Edmonton. Students had to develop arguments for or against the possibility of allowing raves to take place in the city, getting creative with ideas and discovering the challenges and opportunities of role-playing.

“We didn’t want to say to them, put your phones away,” says McKerry.

“We wanted them tweeting in session – the hashtag #EPSLegacy. We also asked them to tell us how mobile friendly and accessible we are. Can you find the agenda items? Could you sit in a council meeting and pull up a report on your phone?”

City Councillors, including Walters, Sohi, McKeen and Henderson, participated in the Speed Dating session, rotating from table to table with students to respond to their rapid-fire questions and concerns.

“We prepared the students to think about the questions they’d have for councillors,” explains Nathoo. “We asked the, what do you want to know from councillors? What do you want to hear from them about how they do their work, and what it means to them?”

The results of CPI’s survey indicated that high school students truly benefited from the workshop in better understanding how city council functions, and most importantly, how they can get involved in decision making. Some of the results included:

  • Prior to the workshop, 26% of students disagreed or strongly disagreed that people like them can affect what the government does. After participating in the workshop, 100% of students agreed or strongly agreed that “people like me can affect what the government does.”
  • 56% strongly agreed that they’d be more likely to get involved in community issues/municipal politics after the session.
  • Prior to the session, 20 % of students indicated they did not have the skills and knowledge, to get in involved in civic affairs and municipal decision making (or did not know). After participating in the session 100% of participants responded they had skills and knowledge to get involved.

Click here for full survey results!

“I thought being able to do the hearings helped me understand when I speak at those in the future,” says one of the high school students.
Nathoo and McKerry report they’ve already seen an increase in youth’s participation at City Hall.

“It was very exciting because two of [the students] who were in our program came to a public hearing a few weeks after, on infill development. As part of the legacy program, it was something they’d been studying and came and did a great presentation,” McKerry says enthusiastically.

Organizers Nathoo and McKerry were grateful to CPI’s process of evaluation and they hope the end results will demonstrate the value in engaging high school students through City Hall High.

“Research is critical to gain insight about whether programs like City Hall High succeed in changing knowledge and attitudes in how people interact with government,” says Zane Hamm, Research Coordinator at CPI.

“The energy and passion we witnessed in the students and City staff was exciting. We were able to see how “hands on learning” brings City Hall alive.”

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Posted on June 04, 2015 | Categorized in Events and News.