Jessica Chang, 16, of Hudson, Ohio, a senior at Hathaway Brown School, created a youth organization that is working to promote civics education among middle-level and high school students across the country. As the first American citizen in her family, Jessica has a strong interest in civics and politics. So when she volunteered to tutor middle schoolers, “I was discouraged by the level of disengagement of my students,” she said. Jessica concluded it wasn’t because they were inherently apathetic, but because schools are often reluctant to teach civics subjects that might stir controversy. “I believe education cannot be complete without a basic understanding of your rights and duties as a citizen,” she said.
Jessica decided to form a student-run group to counter the trend toward “civics deserts” in schools. She crafted a mission statement, built a website, and began recruiting like-minded students. Over the past two years, she has assembled a team of 45 students from schools across the country who work on a variety of projects to expose more young people to civics. They’ve developed a civics curriculum that has been taught at schools and summer programs, published articles on social and political issues, and hosted virtual conferences. Jessica’s organization, called “The Catalyst,” also partners with other student and civic groups to raise awareness, funds and supplies for various causes. “Our goal is to inspire students to care about their communities and create change,” said Jessica, “and then to provide them with the resources and empowerment to do so.”