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Students from across the state think about public policy

Last summer as a fellow with the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation, I partnered with EducationNC and 10 other organizations to lead my 11th grade English students through a public policy boot camp for students, designed by teacherswith the goal of fostering students’ understanding of public policy and its effect on their daily lives. Students were then able to frame research and pitch policy changes throughout the school year as a part of a project based learning unit developed using STEM principals.

These students are now aware that policy change is about building a better future.

As a teacher fellow with EducationNC this summer, I  partnered with Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation Fellow Adrienne Lauchart, a former Edgecombe County Schools teacher, and EdNC summer policy fellow Molly Osborne, to hold multiple iterations of “boot camp” throughout the summer with different groups of students and organizations to keep working through the question left unanswered:

Where is the voice of those affected the most — the students?

On July 14, we held a North Carolina Public Policy Boot Camp for 24 students from across the state as part of the Youth Leadership Institute by Community Development Institute. In a session on public problems and public solutions, students began to grapple with policy issues in their local areas. 

Osborne, a former teacher in New Orleans, explained to students what sparked her interest in public policy: “I realized everything I was doing in the classroom was being told to me by state legislators who have never set foot in the classroom.” She walked students through a framework for understanding public policy. With peaked interest, students asked questions. “Is there an area where public policy ever mixes with public health?”  And, “if you are not exposed to public issues or conflicts, what is a method to expose yourself to these issues?”

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Credit: Molly Osborne

Moving into a session on government representation, students utilized a set of interactive polls to activate their prior knowledge or identify their lack thereof on the N.C. General Assembly, how it functions, and how a bill becomes a law.Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 9.53.04 PM

As you can see from the polls, only 28 percent of students knew North Carolina legislators do not have term limits.


When asked, “What do you think about your local government and its leaders?” Forty-seven percent of these students responded, “I’m not sure.”

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Students were also shocked to find that out of 120 members in the N.C. House of Representatives, there were zero Latino legislators. In the N.C. Senate, there is only one Latino legislator.

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Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 8.15.57 PMEdNC Legislative Reporter Alex Granados in a session entitled, “The Work of Democracy is Messy,” described how education policies go from bill to law, and also how funding debates impact the classroom. Students worked through HB 242 concerning charter schools, and HB 1080 addressing achievement school districts. 

As students were confronted with their gaps of knowledge around public policy, Andrew Brennan of Student Voice impressed upon the students that we need their leadership to take the information from programs such as “boot camp” and address the gaps.

“Students are an instant news hook.”

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Marcus Reed of Needham Broughton High School has pledged to “form a club at school that educates young African Americans about African-American history that schools don’t teach,” while Iteka Fasion of Hillside New Tech wants to “change the way the youth in my community view police officers… by attending Night Out to support and talk with police officers and community members.”

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Understanding the gaps in our students’ knowledge, we are moving forward. For the first time, on August 11, 2016, “boot camp” is going outside of the Triangle and we are hosting an N.C. Public Policy Boot Camp in Edgecombe County. This boot camp is different in that, at the same tables, we will have principals, students, teachers, and community members identifying community assets to solve community issues. We are hosting this boot camp for Edgecombe residents, by Edgecombe voices.

George Barilich

George “Nate” Barilich is an English and film teacher at Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh. He also serves as director of Enloe Charity Ball leading high school students in local philanthropy. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, a North Carolina Teaching Fellow, and a member of the inaugural class of Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation Fellows. Nate currently serves as an Executive Fellow at EducationNC. Raised in Onslow County, Nate loves all things Eastern North Carolina: salt water, oysters, and vinegar BBQ.