An Innovation in Civics Education: Digital Badges

Right now, our nation is grappling with the fact that millions of residents are disengaged in their communities and politics.  One of the reasons this is the case is that they have not had access to a civics education or have not had positive community engagement experiences.  Thankfully, this is finally changing! Young people across the nation are leading efforts to increase access to a high quality civics education and are finding innovative ways where they can learn, and get credit for, civics through real life experiences.  

In Massachusetts, students, allies and community leaders recently passed  An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement, a law providing opportunities for: student-led civic projects, voter registration drivesincreased civics education, and professional development for teachers.  


Student and families in Rhode Island filed a lawsuit that asks the United States District Court in Rhode Island to make clear that all students have an enforceable constitutional right to an education that will truly prepare them to be capable civic participants in a democratic society.


We have an opportunity to cultivate a society where all people have a right to fulfill and define their civic duty. In Boston, Massachusetts, students in the Boston Student Advisory Council are leading the way by providing inner-city youth extended and experiential learning opportunities in political engagement and youth organizing locally and nationally.


The Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) is program administered by the Boston Public Schools in partnership with Youth on Board (YOB). Youth organizers in BSAC act as the student union of the district, leading organizing efforts, forging relationships with district and city leaders and impacting school policy and culture. This unique inside/outside partnership--one foot in the room of Boston politicians and school administrators, and the other on the ground with community stakeholders-- within Boston gives BSAC organizers the acumen and skill-set needed to navigate social, political and institutional spaces.


Students who go through BSAC are equipped with skills that prepare them for many facets of life, including higher education, career readiness and a life of civic engagement. In 2017, students in BSAC decided that the skills they were learning as organizers and activists were just as valuable as their education in the classroom.


Thanks to a grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, YOB/BSAC is working on a two-year process of determining skills crucial to civic development, creating civic education curricula, and piloting experiential lesson plans to prepare their peers to be civic leaders. Through this project, BSAC is working in collaboration with Boston After School and Beyond (BASB) and has offered digital civic badges in the following areas:  






These digital badges are aligned with college and career readiness standards already taught in Boston schools and students can include them on resumes and college applications. Some of the skills that are assessed to award a badge to a BSAC member are Advocacy, Political Education, Facilitation, Lobbying, Persuasive Communication, and Campaign Planning.  For more information about badges, visit here.

By the end of the 2017-2018 school year, 15 badging lessons were designed by a team of students, 10 of the badging lessons were implemented on Advocacy, Facilitation, Political Education, and Lobbying, 33 of 42 active students participated in badging lessons (with 15 students participating in 5 or more lessons),  and 20 students were awarded at least one badge.


Students in BSAC put their badging skills into practice year-round through campaign subcommittees, lobby days, town halls, participatory action-research through listening projects, and much more. As a result, hundreds of youth and adults and several pieces of legislation have benefited from BSAC’s mastery of these critical skills.


Youth organizers at BSAC initiated badging to fuel conversations on equity both in the district and nationally. The reality is that traditional trajectories of learning do not work for everyone and badging, particularly through an after-school program or community organization, gives students alternate opportunities to demonstrate competence through practice. Badging also gives districts in Massachusetts innovative ways to align with the new legislation. Badging expands learning opportunities for youth and further incentivizes them to be the change agents of social injustices that impact their lives.


To learn more about BSAC, visit:

To learn more about Youth on Board, visit:

  1. Critical Thinking

  2. Perseverance

  3. Teamwork 

  4. Communication.  

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