We recognize that in order to become engaged citizens, students must practice civic engagement in school. The Rochester City School District Social Studies Department’s ROCitizens initiative aims to prepare students for the rigors of citizenship by engaging every district student in civic education and action every year throughout their K-12 experiences in our schools. Students will participate in rigorous, relevant, experiential activities that ask students to identify issues that are important to them, connect their schoolwork to their homes and communities, and build relationships with community groups, civic agencies, and cultural institutions. This movement will ensure that our students are prepared to be active citizens in our democratic society and fulfill our vision of what a social studies graduate should know, do and be like.


This initiative is asset-based and acknowledges youth voice and youth expertise, aiming to unify the efforts of our school communities to guarantee that all of our students are not just provided opportunities, but actively engaged in civic participation that is tied to their academic work throughout their school careers.

Why ROCivics?

Research emphasizes the importance of civic education and social studies for our students. Now, more than ever, we need to support our students in developing the skills and dispositions that are requisite to be active informed citizens:

  • High-quality civic education includes instruction in civics and government, history, economics, geography, law, and democracy; the discussion of current events and controversial political issues; service learning, school governance, and extracurricular activities that provide young people opportunities get involved in their schools and communities; and curricular and co-curricular simulations of democratic processes (Hess, 2016).
  • There is a civic engagement opportunity gap. Students attending higher socioeconomic status schools, those who are college-bound, and white students get more civic education opportunities than low-income students, those not heading to college, and students of color (Kahne & Middaugh, 2009).
  • Civics education boosts the likelihood of voter participation (Bachner, 2010).
  • High quality civic education in school is associated with higher levels of civic knowledge in adulthood (Kawashima-Ginsberg, 2013), and with political engagement (Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge, 2013).
  • Effective social studies education results in students who are more likely to vote, four times more likely to volunteer and work on community issues, and are more confident in communicating with their elected representatives (Carnegie Corporation, 2011).

Community Building and Civic Action

The activities, projects, and experiences students will be asked to engage in will vary by grade level and be designed to be rigorous, relevant, and developmentally and culturally appropriate. Designed to spiral throughout the K-12 level, ROCivics activities revolve around the components of Action Civics (modeled after processes from the National Action Civics Collaborative the Mikva Challenge Issues to Action curriculum).

The foundations of citizenship will be practiced, developed, and honed throughout students’ K-12 careers in varied ways...

    • Common learning activities and experiences that are embedded into the curriculum at each grade level
    • Benchmark projects at seminal grade levels that give students first hand experience taking civic action.
    • Extracurricular activities that give students additional opportunities to use their voices and take action in our schools and communities.

Cycle of Civic Action

Planning for Civic Readiness - What's on the Table?

It is important to acknowledge that civic engagement is more than just content knowledge about the law, history, and government. To effectively take meaningful civic action that results in positive change, students must have many skills, competencies, and dispositions. In creating ROCitizens activities and initatives, we work with multiple frameworks to accomplish our goals of supporting civic readiness:

So... what Will this look like?

Grade 4: Project Citizen

Project Citizen is a Civics Education Program that promotes competent and responsible participation in State, Local and Federal Government. Fourth grade students work together as a class to identify and study public policy issues that directly impact their communities.

The final product is a portfolio that may be presented before other classes, at a school showcase, to community organizations, at open house events, or to our city’s leaders and policy makers.

Grade 8: Project Soapbox

Project Soapbox is a public speaking competition facilitated by Mikva Challenge that calls young people to speak out on issues that affect them and their communities. These powerful speeches have lasting, transformative impacts on classrooms, schools, and communities. The soapbox speech originates from the days when speakers would elevate themselves to an audience by standing on a wooden crate, or soapbox, to make an impromptu speech about a political topic or community issue. This speech gives the opportunity to persuade the audience to understand, care, act, vote, or speak out on an issue that affects the community. What comprises a Project Soapbox speech?

    • Soapbox speeches are two-minutes long.
    • A soapbox speech is about an issue that the student identifies, not an assigned topic.
    • It includes relevant research and evidence on the issue.
    • It addresses a specific audience.
    • It includes a call to action.

Grade 12: Civic Action Project (CAPstone)

Our Participation in Government Civic Action Project evidenced by a digital portfolio in alignment with the Mikva Challenge Digital Issues to Action Curriculum. In completing this project, students engage in all six components of civic action... students examine their communities from an asset-based perspective, identify issues most important to them, research, analyze, develop an action pan, and take action within their communities!

Grades K-6: Curriculum-Embedded Experiences

In addition to benchmark projects at seminal grades, ROCivics aims to engage all students in civic learning and action every year of their school careers. Work at the K-6 level will focus on using culturally responsive picture books that affirm our students’ experiences and identities as centerpieces of lessons focused on civic education and social studies. Each lesson series will be...

    • intended for all students as part of regular K-6 curriculum
    • tied directly to NYS standards and requirements
    • planned with culturally responsive practice, social justice, and social emotional learning in mind.

*Grade 2 prototype page