A Naperville teen’s organization meant to bolster civic education and advocacy among young people has grown beyond Illinois borders. Shreya Joshi, now a senior at Waubonsie Valley High School, started Project TEAL (short for tolerance, engagement, action, learning) as a sophomore in 2019.
Joshi saw intensifying political polarization and a hesitancy to discuss politics among young people in recent years, and wanted to take action to turn it around.
When Joshi joined her school’s Model UN and other local political clubs, she watched her peers discuss polarizing political issues civilly. She saw this as a “microcosm of what we should strive for as a society,” and decided education was the answer.
“If you don’t teach students the importance of becoming involved in this space, then why would they grow up to be informed citizens?” Joshi said. “I think action is ultimately only achieved through this first conversation.”
From Local To Nationwide
Joshi started by creating five civic engagement workshop curriculums geared toward elementary and middle school students, and partnered with libraries and schools around Naperville and Aurora to conduct them.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Joshi decided to follow most other education by moving online, “where more and more people could get involved.” By September 2020, the group had expanded beyond Illinois. Today, Project TEAL has 48 members across 13 states, and nine official state chapters.
“I really didn’t envision it moving to a national stage like this,” Joshi said. “It feels good, but I definitely did not do this alone 100%, I have so many amazing team members who helped me create this impact.”
Project TEAL now has 43 curriculum topics, ranging from basic civic education for elementary and middle schools students through courses like “The Three Branches of Government,” to complex topics meant for high school students like “How to be an Advocate for Racial Equity.”
To help spread the curriculum to as many districts as possible, the group partnered with the iCivics Educator Network, which hosts 150 educators across 40 states.
Project TEAL also grew an advocacy component, with its first major campaign being “Stand Against Voter Suppression” in Spring 2021.
In response to what Joshi said was a nationwide “huge onslaught of voter suppression legislation” after the 2020 election, the group hosted an email and phone-banking event. They provided a call script template and information toolkit on the situation, and collectively made about 65 calls to elected officials nationwide to advocate against voter suppression bills in each state.
“A lot of people were really glad to have participated in such an event,” Joshi said. “It’s really important to give that outlet for high schoolers because I think a lot of the time we hear about these issues and we want to do something about it, we just don’t know how.”
Moving forward, Project TEAL plans to create a civics contest to “get people to host these civic engagement workshops in their own community,” Joshi said. Prizes will be available for whoever hosts the most workshops within the contest’s timeframe.
Naperville News 17’s Casey Flanagan reports.
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