#teens4citizenship—June, 2016  “The Importance of Learning about Citizenship”

#teens4citizenship—June, 2016 “The Importance of Learning about Citizenship”

L&G capstone seniors with citizenship outreach postcards

L&G senior citizenship capstone presentation

It is common knowledge that many American families are descended from, or are currently, immigrants or refugees.  And yet our public schools spend precious little time teaching about the actual citizenship process.  A typical civics curriculum usually covers more abstract topics such as governance and individual rights/responsibilities.  Missing are the more personal and concrete issues like “how does one actually become a citizen and why is it important?”  This is crucial information for citizens and non-citizens alike.

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Hartford Public Library has been trying to bridge this gap in knowledge.   For the past two years, we have been working at several Hartford high schools engaging immigrant and refugee youth in our effort to educate them about the benefits of U.S. citizenship, as well as the application process.   Last year we offered an after-school citizenship class at Hartford High, this year we started one during the school day at Bulkeley High, and both this year and last year we mentored seniors at the Law & Government Academy, Bulkeley High, and the Sports and Medical Sciences Academy who focused on citizenship for their senior capstone projects.

And so, it was our great pleasure this week to witness four L&G seniors showing their newly-gained expertise as they presented their capstone projects to their fellow students. Tara (featured in the May #teens4citizenship blog) described her childhood growing up in a refugee camp in Nepal with very limited housing, food, and education.  Born in this camp after her parents were expelled from Bhutan during a period of racial purification in 1991, it took more than 20 years before her family obtained visas to come to the U.S. and start a new life. Needless to say, as a refugee without citizenship in any country Tara is very excited to become an American citizen!

Although Antony, Jeanelle, and Tanique already enjoy citizenship status from their home countries of Peru, St. Lucia, and Jamaica, they too are eager to become U.S. citizens. The process will be easier now, Jeanelle noted, because “we have learned a lot about the requirements—such as reviewing the 100 questions, preparing for the interview, and taking the test—and benefits, such as voting, traveling with a U.S. passport, bringing family to the U.S., and running for office.”  Tara added that benefits also include many more opportunities for college scholarships, an important feature for these college-bound seniors!

A further component of the capstone project is giving back to the community. All of the students were involved in tutoring or outreach.  Tara tutored her parents about American history and prepared them for the 100 questions and Tanique volunteered at the Hartford Public Library during citizenship and English language classes.  Indeed, a highlight for Tanique has been watching the adult students she mentored pass the interview process and achieve citizenship. The outreach and tutoring, in addition to helping others, also solidified the students’ own grasp of the subject matter.  As Tara explained, “The more you help people, the more you learn.”

As our cohort of young adult Citizenship Ambassadors grows each year, we look forward to more people in the greater Hartford area starting the process of and achieving citizenship.  The Harford Public Library offers free English and Citizenship classes, as well as  bilingual citizenship application assistance from the library’s BIA (Board of Immigration Appeals) accredited staff.  Please spread the word!

For more information, please contact:

Judy Wyman Kelly, Teen Citizenship Project Coordinator, jwykelly@gmail.com (301) 503-8035

Homa Naficy, Hartford Public Library Chief Adult Learning Officer, hnaficy@hplct.org(860) 695-6334


*A partnership between Hartford Public Library and Hartford Public Schools*

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