Meet Arielle Jennings, New Executive Director of Generation Citizen Massachusetts

| Aimee Sprung

Generation Citizen (GC) is a non-profit organization that empowers young people through action civics education and encouraging them to grow into adulthood as active citizens in democracy. Since its initial pilot in 2009, GC has been encouraging civic participation in Boston’s youth through a comprehensive educational plan and events that keep students engaged and informed.

As a member of the GC MA Board, I have watched the org grow and lead Massachusetts in reviving civics education. By 2020, GC aims to create strong demand for Action Civics across the state and make Action Civics accessible to all educators and students. I learn so much from every interaction I have with GC educators and students and I can’t wait for my sons to be old enough to learn from GC too. 

As GC embarks on this ambitious path, we are pleased to welcome a new Executive Director to GC Massachusetts: Arielle Jennings. The post below is a summary of a recent conversation I had with Arielle about her experience and the transformations she aims to set forward in her new role.

Tell us about your background and experience.

For the last ten years I have been supporting K-12 schools, colleges and nonprofits promote civic education and youth voice, including the last two years as the Program Director for Generation Citizen Massachusetts. In all of my professional roles, my aim has been to push learning from inside classrooms out into real-world settings and ask students to solve problems their communities are facing. My focus on this work began when I studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and connected with leaders in the field developing new approaches to civic education. Now as the Executive Director, I hope to spread Action Civics across Massachusetts as the leading approach for schools to prepare young people as active citizens. 

What is Generation Citizen all about?

Simply put, Generation Citizen is about engaging young people in our democracy. Young people are more eager than ever to find ways to change their communities, but many, especially those who are low-income and people of color, feel helpless to do so. Rather than learning civics through a text book, Generation Citizen students learn civics by doing civics. Classes choose a single issue to focus on during the semester and then connect with local politicians and community leaders to make change on their issue. Through this process, students learn the skills, knowledge and dispositions needed to become the next generation of civic leaders. 

What is one of your favorite recent Generation Citizen projects?

One of my favorite Generation Citizen classes this past year was from Lowell High School, the second largest high school in Massachusetts. The class decided to take on the issue of gun violence in their community. Students organized a city-wide gun buyback program in partnership with their local government and leaders from the community. Their teacher, Jessica Lander, said, “The students transformed over this whole process. The confidence they showed was really stunning.” In Lowell, Action Civics is offered in all twenty 10th grade U.S. History classes including English-language-learner classrooms. 

What is your vision for Generation Citizen in Boston?

We just unveiled our 3-year strategic plan that outlines ambitious goals for expansion. We aim to almost double the number of students we serve by growing our presence in Boston while expanding across the state with a focus on Gateway Cities like Lowell and Worcester. As we grow, we will prioritize working with schools that offer Generation Citizen to every student across an entire grade. We aspire to this because we believe authentic civic engagement is not a privilege, but is a right and responsibility that all young people should be afforded the opportunity to engage in.

How do you see Action Civics influencing the Boston community? 

When young people engage in the civic process in Boston, amazing things start to happen. Local issues that previously lacked the all-important youth voice and perspective are energized through the powerful stories and agency Generation Citizen students share. Students are developing innovative and relevant ideas for our local leaders to adopt, from advocating to change the Boston Public Schools’ curriculum to better suit their learning needs to lobbying for more resources to be put into youth-police relations, Action Civics solutions are taking hold in the city and young people are leading the charge.

If you could work on your own Action Civics project, what issue would you like to explore? 

I’ve always believed in the power of adults practicing the same Action Civics process that we ask our students to in Generation Citizen. I am actually currently working on an Action Civics project as we speak! Our team and I at Generation Citizen are working to pass comprehensive civics legislation at the state-level. We hope to see Bill SD954An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement, pass in the State House and make it so all K-12 schools in Massachusetts are delivering civics again, and in a new, action-oriented way.

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Aimee Sprung

To keep up with Aimee you need to be up early. Like 5 AM early. Then you have to squeeze in Crossfit, grow STEM education programs, collaborate with community leaders and still keep up with her family - 2 boys require high energy. Or you can hit the snooze and sleep soundly knowing Aimee has that all covered.