Student ballot guide “Letters 2 Dena” developed for the 2016 California elections.
The Letters 2 Dena project is designed to give John Muir High School students in the Arts, Entertainment and Media Academy a voice about the issues on the complex 2016 CA ballot, to understand the propositions and then share their results with their community through the development of a website.
English teacher Manual Rustin responded to a few questions about the project for Artzray:
What is the idea behind “Letters 2 Dena” project?
“This is an atypical election year—CA has a record number of initiatives on the ballot and the presidential race has produced headlines that would have been inconceivable in years past. We wanted to develop a project that would help students wade through the waters of this election and gain clarity about the wide range of issues and policies that will be on the ballot. More importantly, we wanted to develop within students a sense of civic responsibility to inform their community about how various ballot items impact them.
Students were asked to not only research and fact-check various election items, but to evaluate what they find and create a digital “letter” geared at informing local voters about what’s at stake. These “letters” to Pasadena and Altadena review ballot items, provide competing viewpoints on those items, and attempt to answer the question:
“Why should I, as a Pasadena/Altadena resident, care about this election?”
“The primary goals of the project are to assist students in exploring how art, politics, and student voice can merge to inform and empower our democratic process.”
Specific goals within this context include learning how to research ballot items, identify bias, fact-check claims, and find connections between state- or nation-wide ballot items and the community.
How does the Pathways AEM program facilitate this type of integrated study?
“We have collaboration time built into our schedule for teachers across content areas to meet and plan projects like this one. AEM students are scheduled as cohorts who share the same core classes and arts classes. This makes it much easier to structure lessons in different courses and class periods that all feed into an integrated project such as Letters 2 Dena.”
Do you feel that this is a project that should continue?
Definitely, I don’t think we should just do this on election years. [and] I don’t think this project should just be exclusive to seniors. I feel like everybody should have the opportunity that we have to learn about the government and the way that our democracy works.
Minor Martinez, HS Senior
I think this project has been beneficial to us since 2016 is a unique year for us in general since most of us are eligible to vote. I’m not going to vote this year because I don’t really [agree] with any of the candidates. But what Mr. Rustin is doing with us, were researching propositions [and] honestly I didn’t really know about propositions, but they’re actually pretty cool. Me and my group are doing proposition 52 which is on Medi Care and I didn’t really know how may people relied on it.
So before the project you didn’t want to vote in general but this project has changed your mind about somethings?
Yeah. When people think about voting, they think about presidents. That’s it. They don’t think about they don’t think about all the other political positions. But now, you notice governors, senators, all these people, and how they play a major part in representing you as an individual.
Malik Kindle, HS Senior – Do you feel that this project has changed the way you look at the election in general, not just the presidential candidates?
Definitely. Before this project, I just heard about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and that’s all I knew about voting in general. Since this project I’ve dived deeper into the process of voting and and what I’m voting on and things like that.
Since the project, what have you done outside of the classroom to educate those you know about the election?
My mom knew a little about voting and things like that but she, just like other U.S. citizens, don’t have enough time to go through every propositions. She didn’t know about my proposition [for the project] and others like mine. So I’ve been helping her understand what they mean and what it means for us personally.
What do you hope that the community takes from this project?
Just that voting isn’t just “president” and then you’re done. To really dive into what you’re voting on because whatever happens, it’ll be your life for the next four years.
Visit the Letters 2 Dena Student Ballot Guide
The Armory Center for the Arts builds on the power of art to transform lives and communities through creating, teaching and presenting the arts. As the community lead for the arts academies for the Pasadena Unified College and Career Pathways Programs the Armory plays a vital role by providing arts career connections and resources to the students from the John Muir High School Arts, Entertainment and Media Academy.
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