Students Make their Voices Heard in Letters to the Next President

The National Writing Project and PBS member station have teamed up to bring civic engagement into the classroom this election season with the launch of Letters to the Next President (L2P) 2.0. The online initiative gives young people ages 13 to 18 an outlet to voice their opinions on issues that matter to them, and offers teachers the opportunity to welcome discussion of complex issues into the classroom.

“We want to make sure that children become good citizens,” says National Writing Project Executive Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, “participants in their democracy—as well as college and career and community.”

Thousands of students across the United States are expected to participate, including students in schools headed by Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), AFSA Local 1. The submissions, due Nov. 8, ran the gamut from traditional letters to multimedia pieces. L2P 2.0 is a reboot from the 2008 presidential election, when the National Writing Project paired with Google to sponsor the project. At the time, Google Drive was emerging as the cutting-edge technology that allowed teachers and students to communicate on documents in real time.

“[It was] the combination of new online publishing tools and the desire to create an opportunity for young people, who are too young to vote at that point, but still have a lot of views on what they would like to have happen in this country,” said Eidman-Aadahl.

By Election Day 2008, L2P had received more than 10,000 letters from students who explored a range of issues—from the cost of health care to the Iraq war and climate change. This year, Eidman-Aadahl expects students to bring attention to issues dominating the news cycle, such as immigration, police brutality and college affordability.

Students’ letters will be hosted on L2P 2.0 and accessible to a nationwide audience at letters2president.org. For teachers, the L2P 2.0 website offers an array of resources, including tips on teaching about the election, how to host an in-class debate, and how to make a video letter with your phone.

Multimedia letters are the “cutting-edge » component to L2P 2.0 and students already have submitted infographics, rap videos and animations in addition to written letters. Christine Puntel, a teacher at the George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science in Philadelphia, helped redesign the L2P 2.0 over the summer, and is excited to introduce the project to her 11th and 12th grade students.

New to the district, Puntel sees it as a way to get to know her students and their interests early on in the school year. “I think that it’s going to give us a way to raise both issues and also solutions,” she says.

Puntel is using L2P 2.0 as a jumping off point for her 12th grade students’ senior projects. Students will research the topic of their choice, examine both sides of the issue, and ultimately articulate their own argument.

Carver E&S Principal Ted Domer has encouraged teachers who’ve taken an interest in the project to take it and run with it.

“So often traditional writing is, you write an essay, your audience is the teacher, the teacher reads it, the teacher gives it back to the student and the student has a grade. That’s the end of it,” said Domer. “Projects like this break those traditional barriers down. It’s an innovative opportunity for kids to show off their writing and to communicate across the country.”

To learn more about L2P 2.0 or to read students’ letters, visit https://letters2president.org/

Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 2.59.03 PM