Engaging Immigrant Teens

Hartford Public Library Expands Citizenship Instruction through High School Programs

two students seated at a table holding up brochuresHartford Public Library has broadened the scope of citizenship instruction services by establishing an academic citizenship class, senior capstone project, and internship program for students at Hartford Public High School Academies. Participating students engage in outreach related to the citizenship process and volunteer to assist eligible legal permanent residents in their community as they pursue citizenship.

Hartford Public Library’s program “The American Place” provides a wide range of immigration and citizenship services including English language classes, citizenship instruction, and application assistance. In 2014, in an effort to promote citizenship and the naturalization process within the community, the library reached out to Hartford Public School’s English Language Services. Through this collaboration, they established after-school citizenship classes for students at the High School Academies who were lawful permanent residents. This program evolved into a senior capstone project that allows students to participate firsthand in the outreach effort. Hartford Public Library has expanded its reach by educating high school students, who then pass the civics knowledge onto their families, gaining the attention of a broader group of eligible citizenship applicants. 

When Hartford Public Library contacted the Academies in hopes of partnering on a new program for high school students, the principals was enthusiastic about participating. At first, the library had to overcome the challenge of identifying students who were LPRs, because schools do not collect this information. The library conducted targeted outreach by sending flyers home with the students, arranging automated calls to families, and setting up an information table during lunch periods. With the help of the academic community the outreach plan led to an initial enrollment of more than 10 students. The program began by providing these students with half-credit, weekly, after-school citizenship classes.

In 2015, the library initiated the second phase of the program, which focused on recruiting senior students at the Law and Government Academy at Hartford High School to conduct their capstone projects on citizenship services. Over the past few years, 21 immigrant high school seniors have engaged in researching the citizenship application process. Students also focus their projects on a specific aspect of citizenship, such as a recent student who researched the impact of citizenship status on healthcare issues within immigrant communities of Hartford. They also supplement their research by engaging in community service, such as volunteering during citizenship classes at the Hartford Public Library, tutoring their parents and siblings at home, or reaching out to other LPRs in the community. The students find that the community service aspect of the project serves to  solidify the students’ grasp of the subject matter. The capstone project concludes in a day-long forum held at the Law and Government Academy where students present their projects.

The library also involves immigrant high school students in an internship program where teens can serve as “Citizenship Guides” to support the adults who are enrolled in the  library’s citizenship class. The citizenship guides help the adult students by reviewing the 100 civics questions, demonstrating how to use the online learning tools, and providing English conversation practice. After completing the internship program, some eligible students apply for citizenship immediately, or come back when they’ve met the requirements to apply.

Students who participate in these programs benefit long after the internship or capstone project has ended. For example, Aiti Rai is a student who took the citizenship class in 2015 and came to the library the following year once she was eligible to apply for citizenship. “I was inspired to take it seriously as I learned about opportunities for citizens: a citizen can vote, work for the government, and can speak up for his or her rights. I was not aware of these things before I took this class,” said Aiti.  She even brought her brother and sister with her to apply for naturalization as a family, and is helping her parents overcome the difficult language barrier to begin the process themselves. The senior-level students also learn about citizenship benefits they may not have known about otherwise, such as the opportunity to apply for college scholarships. The Hartford Public Library has not only secured a foothold in the schools by partnering on programs geared for high school students, but in doing so, has also widened the impact of their citizenship services to a greater portion of the community.