Teacher Guide Overview

I know of no safe repository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves. And if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion through education. – Thomas Jefferson

Public Achievement (PA) is a program designed to help students work together to improve their schools and communities. It is based on experiential pedagogy and community organizing practices developed in “Citizenship Schools” during the civil rights movement.

Through Public Achievement, young people gain the practical experience of designing and implementing their own projects to solve serious public problems while simultaneously learning about politics and public life. By working on issues that directly affect their lives, students learn that politics is found in the day-to-day action that people take to make changes in their communities and their lives.

This guide is designed to help teachers implement PA in their classrooms or supplement already existing PA programs in their school.

So rather than hold a mock government meeting, meet with city council members; rather than a mock letter writing campaign to a famous person, write a letter to the mayor; rather than a mock school petition to change the food, write a real petition and negotiate with the principal.
– Jason Becker, PA Teacher

All young people who participate in Public Achievement are expected to:

  • Develop self-esteem, hope, and confidence.
  • Define a community problem and identify their stake in it;
  • Work on an issue with a diverse group of people;
  • Map the political environment so they will understand relationships important to addressing the problem;
  • Develop problem-solving strategies and take action; and
  • Evaluate their work and roles to further develop their capacity for effective action.

Through this process, PA can also help students:

  • Become active members of their schools and communities by developing a sense of political efficacy;
  • Become more engaged and motivated to learn;
  • Learn and practice skills in problem solving, communication, and self-management;
  • Develop positive communication skills and collaborative relationships among diverse groups of students.

For classroom teachers, PA provides a foundation to integrate democratic practices into the classroom. Through PA students work towards a greater understanding and appreciation of procedures, rights and responsibilities in creating democratic communities.

Essential to this democratic learning process is that young people should have a central part in the planning and design of the work, and accordingly, they should take responsibility for the success or failure of their project. Studies have found that students become more self sufficient, conscientious learners when they take part in every phase of the learning process.

Public Achievement is a collaborative and cumulative process. Like other forms of experiential education, the learning in PA comes from doing. However, PA emphasizes that such learning comes from working together with other citizens-students, teachers, parents, and community members. PA is also structured as a process of continual development.

Teachers Are Citizens Too! While it is the teacher’s role in PA to empower others to think and act as citizens, Public Achievement is not only about the students. It is also about teachers, staff, and community members thinking of themselves and acting as citizens. It is important to remember that teachers are also members of the team who should put their own passion into the projects and should not feel as if they are confined to a supervisory or instructional role. Therefore it is not a question of doing a program for your students, but working together with them to learn and effect change.