In second grade, my class was assigned “The President Project.” Each student was given the task of choosing a president, learning basic information about their administration, and dressing up like them for the project’s commencement, which entailed parading around the school in our presidential costumes. For whatever reason, I decided that Richard Nixon was my president. So I dressed up in full Nixonian garb; I wore a trench coat, suit, and hat, and walked around the school making peace signs with both of my hands, nodding my head up and down, and yelling “I’m Tricky Dick!”

Until my freshman year of college, “The President Project” and voting for Obama in 2012 were the extent of my civic engagement. Sure, I learned the order of the presidents in fifth grade, studied for the Constitution test in eighth, and took the required American History class in high school. But knowing the definition of the First Amendment and actually exercising my right to practice it are two very different things.

Looking back at my early education, I feel disappointed that I was not taught at an earlier age to be civically engaged and identify the issues that matter to me. In second grade, I wish I had learned the phone number of the White House and my state representatives, and how to call when an issue that I cared about was not being addressed. I wish I received guidance on how to actually participate in the political process, not just dress like a politician who did.

I spent a majority of my free time in high school watching E! and partying with friends because I wasn’t aware that I had a responsibility to do more. I didn’t take seriously the possibility that I could use my power as a young person to actually change the world. It was not until college that I learned about the realities of climate change and started to work for environmental organizations, when I found a cause that ignited my passion. And when I found my passion, I realized the absolute importance of using my voice to speak out and take action to create a more livable world.

According to the New York Times, civic engagement means “working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference.” Imagine if we stressed civic engagement in our schools and taught children the importance of working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities — how different even the results of the 2016 election might have been?

It is never too early to teach children to stand up for justice and to take action on issues that matter to them. It is never too early to cultivate within youth a sense of responsibility for their lives, their country, and their community!

Coming up on Tuesday, April 4, we have an opportunity to engage civically and teach our children as well. April 4th marks the day of the consolidated general election, where four seats on the District 209 high school board are up for election. When it comes to our immediate future, local elections, such as school board positions, have a much more immediate impact on our community than national. 

Think about it: Trump doesn’t choose the budget for new books and new leadership in Proviso Township. The school board does! And whether or not your children attend Proviso schools, the quality of our schools affects Forest Park’s real estate prices and taxes. 

So remember to vote April 4, and bring your children with you to the polls!