Travis Early College High School senior Brenda Gomez exits the William R. Sinkin Eco Centro after voting for the first time.
Travis Early College High School senior Brenda Gomez exits the William R. Sinkin Eco Centro after voting for the first time. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

It has been an exciting year to witness a shift to the next generation of community leaders and voters in San Antonio.

To carry forward that momentum, the Alexander Briseño Leadership Development Program’s civic engagement action team has created an empowering curriculum to guide high school students and their families through community engagement, government mechanisms, and voting processes.

Through pilot partnerships with the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, MOVE Texas, the League of Women Voters, Somerset Independent School District, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas we can inspire the next generation of leaders. Their expertise and involvement will help shed light on historically underserved communities, with the goal of creating positive change forlocal neighborhoods and the city as a whole.

Obstacles to voting can be seen across the United States, preventing our most vulnerable communities from engaging in the public process. From the 15th Amendment granting suffrage to African-American men to the 19th Amendment giving women voting rights, the history of voting in the U.S. has been one of ever-increasing access and empowerment. Every vote matters, especially when it comes to our local elections.

From 2014 until today, youth voter registration nationwide has increased. Over that same period of time, however, youth registration in Texas has only increased .12 percent, one-twentieth of the national average. But among youth voters who were registered in Texas, turnout at the polls increased 508 percent. There is a wide gap between youth registration and turnout, and the longer young people go without registering or voting for the first time, the less likely it is they ever will.

Our team intends to change that by fostering a culture of civic engagement with young people and their families. If we want a state where elected officials truly represent their communities, we need a citizenry that is both capable of voting and empowered to do so.

We’ve worked toward that goal by creating a free open-source curriculum geared toward 13- to 18-year-old students and their families. This guide was designed with the help of educators, community advocates, and our strategic partners to provide not only the knowledge required to vote, but also the confidence. By partnering with key organizations we will be able to access classrooms and provide these materials directly to students who need empowerment the most.

Our curriculum is designed to engage both students and families. Activities include issue mapping, helping a family member verify their voter registration, and a scavenger hunt to discover one’s representatives. These activities increase voter literacy and ensure that teens view voting as an act that shapes their community rather than an obligation or burden. The curriculum ultimately aims to develop young leaders who possess the knowledge and confidence to move their community forward.

The impact of increased youth engagement will be clear: Substantially increasing voter registration and turnout early will create voting bases that represent all constituents and, thus, the community at large.

Our material also aims to create follow-up for those who already have been empowered to vote. To compliment the curriculum, we will compile a list of resources, including automated text-based registration that returns resources for registering and notifications about local elections. We also will create a network of alumni who could then register voters, introduce new families into the materials, and work with local leaders to continue to improve government transparency. Our community partners will assist in recruitment and improving materials by providing prizes and incentives, resources, and support to these networks.

We will measure the success of our program through a combination of surveys built into the curriculum, by following up with alumni groups and leaders, and by relying on traditional voter data such as registration and voting rolls.

MOVE San Antonio already is using our model as part of its new outreach program in public high schools. The organization currently has in place an effective program aimed at college-level students; our curriculum will help connect them with both primary education and community partners. This is only the beginning.

The Civic Engagement Team is made up of:

  • Ana Nelson
  • Bryan Traywick
  • Christina Carter
  • Donovon Rodriguez
  • Manuel Maldonado
  • Martha Gonzalez
  • Miguel Soto
  • Monica Ramirez
  • Sasha Begum

Empowering Youth–The Time Is Now, the action team tasked with exploring civic engagement during the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 2018 Alexander Briseño Leadership Development Program,...