“For the rest of my life, I’ll be a voice for people who don’t know how to get their voices heard. I’m going to use my voice to make the future better.”
Clayneashia Jones, Allentown Class of 2021
Congratulations to Clayneashia Jones, Building 21 Allentown Senior, for her work as an Equity in Civics Youth Fellow.
This fall, Clayneashia (Cici) joined the Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship program, a competitive, paid, year-long internship for students in grades 7–12 to lend their voice to the discussion on equity in civic education.
By the end of the program students will be able to:
Convey their personal narrative and employ lived civic experiences as valuable contributions to the equity in civic education discussion
Articulate the need for equity-rooted civic education
Engage adult advocates and allies around youth civic needs from a student-focused perspective
Leverage communication and advocacy skills developed throughout the program to engage with decision-makers and public institutions to influence outcomes in their community
Understand the relationship between civic knowledge, civic engagement, and social influence skills as tools necessary to navigating civic institutions
Our goal is to cultivate a deeper appreciation for student voices in the field of civics which we will accomplish by facilitating student-led discussions about civic education with equity at the center to ensure student perspectives are represented in the national dialogue.
When asked about the best part of being an equity fellow, Cici reflected: “The connections are the best part!” The people Cici interacts with through the fellowship inspire her and she values learning about their experiences. After only one training session, Cici is practicing her skills of drafting a press release. She looks forward to working with mentors and last year’s equity fellow cohort to identify and take action on key issues: “We’re going to make a change! We’re going to make a difference – that’s what’s exciting!”
Cici reflected on her Building 21 experiences that inspired her pathway.
It is at Building 21 that Cici realized the impact of her voice. In school, people listen and take interest in what she has to say. She reflected on approaching Principal Jose Rosado, Jr. with challenges and his willingness to listen and take action. Cici served on the Building 21 Allentown Student Council, where time and again, she felt the value of her voice. Knowing that she is heard in school gives Cici hope that she will impact the real world. And she already has.
In May of 2019, Cici participated in a listening tour conducted by Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Josh Shapiro.
At the event, Cici joined a group of invited students from throughout the Lehigh Valley to discuss issues around bullying and mental health supports in schools. Cici’s Civics teacher, Shannon Salter, reflects on this experience as a moment when she witnessed Cici’s growth and readiness to be a voice of advocacy for herself and others in her community.
“The way Cici presented herself in that room full of over a hundred students, superintendents, and the Attorney General of PA was really a sight to see. I observed her building coalitions with students she had just met that day in order to reach consensus on ideas they wanted to share with the Attorney General. Moments like that are a real treat as an educator – being able to witness a student take the skills you’ve been practicing in the classroom out in the world and have a tangible impact.”
The plan for the session was to discuss bullying in schools. However, Cici and her peers raised their voices to challenge the plan.
The group of students told Attorney General Shaprio that if he wanted to talk about bullying but not the broader issues of teen mental health, then he would not learn what he needed to learn. In response to their advocacy, he listened to the group’s ideas and concerns and changed his agenda on the spot. The remaining listening tour stops broadened the agendas to include discussions on mental health supports for students. For Cici, that moment is one she will never forget.
Cici shared: ”I really love [the iCivics] program. I always used to think about problems – things I wanted the government to do – but I never thought I’d be heard! I had no idea how people got their voices heard. I wondered if I was going to have to shout from a rooftop, or stand on a corner handing out papers. Now, I know how people are heard. I love it!”