Homelessness, hunger and health care will replace reading, writing and arithmetic this summer when 80 high school students attend the new Civic Leadership Institute at Johns Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth, to be held from June 29 to July 18.
Combating the consequences of urban poverty will be the focus of these high-achieving students from various places and backgrounds as they spend three weeks living in Baltimore, examining the trials of city life. The program aims to foster a commitment to civic and social responsibility among students considered highly gifted by two university-based programs, CTY and Northwestern University's Center for Talent Development, which developed the model for the Civic Leadership Institute.
The idea is to select students whose stellar academic abilities suggest they will be the future leaders, thinkers and doers of our world and offer them a program that combines classroom public policy examinations with real-world forays into urban neighborhoods, shelters and the mayor's office. They will be housed during the program at the Peabody Conservatory.
"Voter participation, especially among the young, continues to decline in spite of daily headlines suggesting we need more civic-mindedness," said Lea Ybarra, executive director of CTY. "And research indicates that many of the relationships and associations that bind our communities are weakening as well. This all adds up to a fear that we may be losing grip on the great tradition of civic leadership and service that built our country. CTY's Civic Leadership Institute aims to help restore that tradition to a critically important group of outstanding young people."
The program also is designed to transform the notion of service learning, the concept that has made volunteering a nearly universal requirement for a high school diploma. More than 25 percent of the schools in the United States have such programs on the books, affecting 12.6 million students today, compared with 900,000 students in 1984. While picking up trash along an adopted roadway or answering phones at an animal shelter may fulfill a service learning requirement, Ybarra said, such service projects don't inform students about how their contribution fits in a bigger picture of our country's dependence on civic activism.
In contrast, CTY's Civic Leadership Institute aims to emphasize the "learning" part of the process. Prior to visiting a homeless shelter, teens may hear from an expert on urban housing policies, or read U.S. Housing Commission reports and tax policies for low-income housing. Following their work at the shelter and discussions with people there, students will visit officials from Baltimore's Housing Authority to understand the real world of how policies do or don't forge workable solutions for a family in need of shelter.
"Through a curriculum that integrates high-level classroom learning followed by real-world experiences, our new program aims to reach to the heart of these issues as well as to the hearts and minds of the student participants," Ybarra said. "The goal is to create a cadre of young people well informed of the complexity of these ailments. Whether these young people continue into public service or into the corporate boardroom, they will arrive more mindful of some of our society's problems and their role--and responsibility--to help."