During the weeklong camp, students start off each day by playing a game called iCivics. The game was founded in 2008 by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
The game provides a crash course in civics with various simulated activities. There are games about the bill of rights, and others about running for president, passing new laws and arguing real cases. These students in the camp are from area school districts, like Waco ISD and Robinson ISD. After their daily iCivics session, they then take the lessons they’ve learned in the game and apply them to the real world, says Brooke Blevins an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction who helps to run the camp.
“So they play the iCivics game and throughout the rest of the day we try to bring those games to life,” Blevins says. “So on one day we visit the Poage Legislative library and we look at congressional papers from legislators from around our area and beyond, about how constituents have advocated to those legislators and how those legislators have advocated for those constituents.”
To help get students thinking about civic engagement right away, the camp starts off with a community issues fair. This brings local civic leaders to the camp that introduce campers to pressing issues that affect the Waco community, like food deserts and poverty. The campers will then select an issue and research it throughout the week and figure out how they can help. 10-year-old Ryland Pledger is one of the 92 campers at iEngage this year. Her group is looking at food deserts and one of solution they’ve discussed is “collecting cans and money and giving them to a local food bank, or volunteering at a grocery store or at a food bank.”
In fact, the day before the camp wrapped up, Ryland’s group addressed their fellow campers and implored them to bring a canned good or money that her group could donate. The call for donations is part of their project that will also see them and the other groups create a video, a website and launch a social media campaign to raise awareness to their issue they’re researching.
But why civics and why reach out to younger kids? Blevins says the answer is simple.
“Because in order for our American democracy to work we have to have people who are active civic participants,” Blevins said. “Unfortunately, we live in a politically polarized environment and we’re not doing a terribly good job educating young people about how to participate in a democracy through deliberation and consensus-building.”
That’s what 11-year-old Lauren Myers says is the benefit of attending a camp like this. This is Lauren’s second year coming to iEngage, she first heard about it from a friend.
“I think it’s a good experience for all kids to try out because it teaches you how you could be active in your community and I think it’s a good thing for kids to learn so they can make their next generation be a better place,” Myers said.
Lauren’s group is looking at special populations, specifically veterans and how they can transition easily from army life to civilian life. The topics the campers are exploring are pretty hefty, and a week is a short time to accomplish a lot, but Blevins says it’s just enough to get these kids thinking about their future and their community.
“I think it’s about making kids aware that they have a voice at a young age. And it’s about helping them be invested in their local communities so that they recognize that when they are of voting age that this an important responsibility,” Blevins said. “But beyond voting, there is lots of things they can do now to get involved.”
While this is the 4th year that the camp has been held at Baylor University, it was the first time that a satellite iEngage camp was held at Texas Christian University. Ultimately, Blevins hopes to get iEngage camps throughout the state and country.