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5 Project Citizen Ideas for School Level Topics and Problems

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So you’re thinking of assigning Project Citizen to your students – or maybe your teacher has assigned it to you – but you want some topic ideas to start with? Well here’s a list of five Project Citizen topic ideas to kick off your brainstorming session.

Don’t know what Project Citizen is? That’s ok. Check out this post, What is Project Citizen? But in short, it’s a method of project based learning that involves your students identifying a problem, researching that problem, proposing a solution, and developing an action plan to promote that solution.

School Level Project Citizen Ideas

If you’re new to Project Citizen, the simplest projects and topic ideas are the ones at the school level. These are often the problems that most directly relate to your students’ lives, and they are probably the ones that your students have the greatest chance of impacting.

So let’s start there. Here’s five school level Project Citizen topic ideas to think about.

Is Your School’s Dress Code Fair or Too Strict?

If your school has a strict dress code, I’m sure you’ve heard your students complain about this.

There are a couple of angles of attack here. On the one hand, some schools have overly strict uniform policies. A charter school in Newark, NJ recently got a lot of bad press when they sent students home for minor dress code infractions. In this case, having the wrong color belt or having a white stripe on your black shoe was considered a “violation.” Other schools are implementing no tolerance policies for things like hoodies.

In these situations you’ve got two potential problems. First, is this a financial burden on parents? Second, are we perpetuating the school to prison pipeline by punishing students for minor dress code infractions? Both issues are worth speaking up about.

How strict is your school’s dress code – yea or nay to the bare midriff?

Another angle to the dress code issue is the way that they often treat young girls. Even in schools that don’t have strict uniform policies, there are often policies that ban things like spaghetti straps and short shorts. But schools like this one in California are beginning to rethink these policies.

Should we really be punishing young women and telling them their bodies are something to be ashamed of? Some adults may think so, but I’m sure the young women in your class will have a different opinion.

Does Your School Start Too Early?

I’m not a huge morning person. I’m thankful that the high school I teach at doesn’t start till 8:00am. But I remember doing my student teaching at a school with an earlier start time and having to be there at 7:15am. And it was worse as a high school student, when I was out the door to the bus stop before 6:30am.

A young girl asleep with her head on a desk next to a book.
Are your students falling asleep? Maybe they need more sleep.

Studies suggest that adolescents naturally sleep later, and making them wake up so early isn’t going to help them perform at their best. In New Jersey, a government study group determined that later start times would be beneficial for students – but that they were ultimately too politically difficult to attempt even a pilot program. In California, the legislature passed a bill that would put the state on track towards an 8:30am start time by 2021, but the Governor has yet to sign it (as of publication, September 19, 2018).

If your students love sleep as much as I do, this might be the issue for them to tackle.

Is Your School Lunch Good Enough? Healthy Enough? Long Enough?

Issues related to school lunches abound. A few years ago, a group of students in my school were completing a Youth Participatory Action Project and they focused on the quality of the school lunches. Hint: they were horrible.

Tray of food with pasta, jello, and a glass of water.
How appetizing and healthy is your school lunch?

Another avenue of attack is the nutritional quality of the school lunches. Do students have access to enough fruits and vegetables? Whole grains? And are these healthy options actually appetizing…?

Many schools have made improvements in this area in recent years because of new federal guidelines for subsidized breakfast and lunches. But that doesn’t apply to schools without a significant free and reduced lunch population, and the current administration is rolling back some of those guidelines. So if your students are into health and wellness now be the time to speak up.

Finally, the length of the lunch period could be a concern. In many high schools, students have to cram food down their throat in twenty to twenty-five minutes. That’s insane. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Does Your School Give Too Much Homework?

In today’s era of rigor, rigor, and more rigor, your students might be getting overwhelmed with homework. Maybe it’s an excessive amount of reading, a ton of math problems, a pile of essays, or a combination of all three. But having hours of homework isn’t unheard of, especially for students who are pushing the limit in advanced classes.

Some schools are starting to reverse that trend and instituting limits on homework, though. Some set aggregate time limits – like 30 minutes per night. Others have designated homework-free times, like weekends of vacations. Still others are testing the limits and considering outright bans on all homework.

Personally, I try to avoid giving homework over weekends, and I never assign packets for vacations. I know I need some time off, and I’m sure the same can be said for my students.

You may have some trouble coming to agreement on how much homework is too much homework. But if your school assigns a lot of homework, I’m sure they’ll be interested in talking about it.

Cell Phone and Electronic Device Policy

This last topic encompasses a lot of different problems.

Is your school overly strict about whether or not students can have or use their cell phones? France recently banned cell phones, and it’s only recently that New York City lifted its ban. In other schools, usage may be severely limited – for example to lunch or study hall.

But this attitude – that cell phones are horrible, evil things – ignores the ways in which they can be helpful. Should students be able to listen to music, if it helps them concentrate? Should they be able to look things up to help them with their work? And, of course, there’s the ultimate inequity that adults are allowed to have their phones… so why shouldn’t students?

Cell phone with headphones plugged in, sitting on a table.
How does your school handle cell phones?

On the other end of the spectrum, some schools are implementing one to one device programs or bring your own device programs. These can raise a host of other questions.

What happens if a device is lost or broken? Will the battery hold a charge all day, and what if you forget your charger? Do all students have access to Internet at home? Harkening back to the homework policy, to what extent do we expect our students to be tethered to their devices after school is over?

Sure, having a device at your fingertips is great. And as a teacher, it opens up a lot of possibilities. But it may be in the students’ best interest to set some limits and ensure that there are sensible policies in place to keep things running smoothly.

Still Need More Project Citizen Ideas?

Those five ideas should be enough to get you started thinking.

But there are tons of other school level topics and problems to tackle – curricular offerings, sports team offerings, club offerings, and welcoming environments, just to name a few.

What’s a topic that your students have done in the past? Drop a comment below, and help some other people out.

Also, check out this post to read more about what Project Citizen is and how to incorporate it into your class.

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