By Marissa Blankenship, GenUN Fellow, Ohio State University
As UNA-USA members, we often worry about political apathy in young people. Why does it plague so many students? What will be the long-term impact of a lack of engagement? And most importantly, what can we do to reverse this cycle?
Too often, though, we forget to include the most relevant voices in this conversation: the students themselves. Instead of talking for them, we need to include them in our conversations. Why is it that so many high school and early college students lack interest in world affairs? Perhaps it’s because our high school curriculums do not allow for an outlet where students can voice their opinions and promote their ideas.
If we want teens to grow into globally-minded adults, we need to give them the right tools to develop these skills. By working with area high schools, we can properly educate our students about the many forms of advocacy available to them.
While most of the UNA-USA campus chapter resources are geared at college students, high schoolers are welcome to participate- especially as an affiliate with a campus or community chapter. Interested in including a local high school in your UNA-USA programming? Read below for tips in how to adapt some of your GenUN toolkit to fit into a high school setting:
- Recruit in-school partners to assist with your efforts. It’s important to partner with at least one individual who knows the ins and outs of both the school’s and the community’s culture. When is the best day to hold meetings? Where should the meetings be held? What is going in the community that relates to the world outside of it? Someone who works in the school will know and understand this well. Teachers, coaches, and academic advisors are all great options.
- Create a concrete leadership and committee structure for students to follow. Younger students are still learning the ins and outs of leadership. If you want to engage a local high school, it’s important that you have a leadership and committee structure set before you recruit students to join. This way, students will understand their responsibilities well and learn to work together in a structured environment.
- Understand what the students are learning - and use GenUN to complement and advance this. With your in-school partner, work with the history and other relevant academic departments to understand what the students are learning in their classrooms. For example, if 10th grade students learn about Earth Science in March, consider having an event regarding the global climate then. If 12th grade students are learning about democracy in their Civics course, plan a field trip to meet with a local Congressperson.
- Leave room for student contribution and creativity in your curriculum. After you have set up a leadership structure, recruited students and in-school partners, and learned about the school community, remember to let the students have a say! Teenagers learn from understanding structures and then understanding how to challenge and change them. After you have your leadership team in place, let students vote and innovate. What’s relevant to their community and how does it relate to the world around them?
- Teach students that their voices matter and can be heard. UNA-USA exists to promote advocacy and understanding of the happenings of the United Nations and its relation to the United States. Campus chapters exist to promote and spread these ideas. A high school chapter has huge potential to teach our students that activism and advocacy comes in many forms. They should be encouraged to try many of them.