International Civics Workshop

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In 2007, the US Congress approved legislation introduced by Sen. Richard Lugar to establish a youth leadership and exchange program for high school students in the United States and Poland. Funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State, the newly created United States – Poland Parliamentary Youth Exchange Program constitutes a four-week exchange experience in which Polish and US adolescents live in one another’s host communities, shadow community leaders, and learn about the history, culture, and governmental structures of one another’s countries. Program objectives include developing in Polish and American youth a sense of civic responsibility and a commitment to international understanding and nurturing a cadre of youth leaders who will share their knowledge and skills with their peers through positive action.

One of the program partners, the Kosciuszko Foundation, selected Dr. Teresa G. Wojcik, a faculty member in the Department of Education and Counseling, to organize and conduct the exchange program’s culminating Community Service Workshop in Krakow, Poland. A former Fulbright recipient for research in Poland, Dr. Wojcik specializes in curriculum and instruction in civics education.

For four days this past July, Dr. Wojcik guided the 30 Polish and American student participants of the US-Poland Parliamentary Youth Leadership Program in reflecting on their intercultural experiences. She also conducted workshop sessions on the rights and responsibilities of citizens in democratic societies, the role of civil society in a democracy, and the attributes of effective leadership. The American students hailed from the cities of Des Moines and Kalona, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois. The Polish participants represented the cities of Łódź, Gdańsk, and Nowy Sącz.

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The joint development of civic-centered community projects to benefit the Polish host communities constituted a major component of the Krakow workshop. Working in teams based on their exchange experiences), the students utilized their knowledge of the Polish community to identify an unmet need in the local society. After deliberation and consensus-building, each group selected one project and developed an extensive action plan for how the project would be realized. Students were expected to consider a variety of project components including budgeting, human resources, support staff, record-keeping, communication, and evaluation of the project’s effectiveness. A competitive grant program funded by the Kosciuszko Foundation will award monies to the teams which developed the best proposals.

In addition to conducting workshop sessions, Dr. Wojcik shepherded students on visits to historical and cultural sites in and near Krakow. The program participants toured Wawel Castle, the tomb of American Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Gothic Basilica of St. Mary’s, and the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Heritage site, among others.

Of her experiences with the US-Poland Parliamentary Youth Leadership Exchange Program, Dr. Wojcik commented, “Students in both Poland and the United States engage in civic education courses in school, however, the Krakow workshop provided a distinctive form of student-centered and highly interactive civic learning. This workshop gave students the chance to discuss real-world community issues, design practical solutions, and nurture authentic civic skills. I was honored to be associated with this program and to contribute to the development of action-oriented and civic-minded citizens for Poland and the United States.”
 

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