In November of 2023, as New Jersey residents cast their ballots for State Senate and General Assembly elections, third-grader Fatoumata Bah and fourth-grader Brianna Bruce were preparing for an election of their own as they sought the offices of Vice President and President of KIPP Seek Academy’s first-ever Student Government Association. 

Associate Director of School Operations Lia Closs and teacher Danielle Williams worked hard to bring the idea for a Student Government Association to Seek. “I approached Danielle over the summer with the idea and she jumped on board,” said Closs. “We hear lots of things about middle and high schools with student governments, but we thought it was important to start young. It's about answering the question, ‘How do I get kids to think about the future?’ They’re learning how to lead and humble themselves and learn from others,” said Williams. 

Brianna Bruce and Fatoumata Bah were elected to leadership positions during KIPP Seek Academy’s first-ever Student Government Association election.

Once the idea was rolled out Assistant Principal Christina Jones and teacher Sarah Jean Phillippe joined the team as well. 

For Bruce and Bah, the election was an exercise in political campaign strategy and resource allocation — as well as the importance of being role models for their peers. “We wrote speeches we delivered to the whole school, and I gave out candy with my name on it to all the other grades. Except my grade, because they said they’d vote for me even without that,” said Bah, who was elected Vice President of her class.

Today, the SGA meets bi-weekly during lunch and the group has helped work with the school’s Culture team to organize fundraisers like candigrams on Valentine's Day, a snack cart that raises money for their activities, and hosting a family and scholar talent show!

Bah’s goal is to be a role model in her school. “When my family first came to Newark from Guinea, I didn’t know almost any English. I want to be a leader in my school and help my peers get good grades and feel at home here,” she said. Both students hope their leadership will lead to the changes they want to see in their community and the world. 

“If I could fix one thing in my community, it would be the amount of litter on the streets. On Earth Day, my family and I help pick it up. We also help my grandmother and her older neighbors shovel snow in the winter so they don’t have to,” said Bruce. One of Bah’s goals as a future leader is to help address climate change. “I’m worried about the earth getting hotter because we use so many resources. I would start a day where nobody could consume energy,” she said. 

Less than a mile away, students at KIPP Life Academy are also learning about civic engagement, thanks to the school's adoption of a brand-new Core Knowledge curriculum. 

Students in Danielle Lisbon’s class launch into their unit on civics in January. 

“Initially, we were thinking about piloting the program in just first and fourth grade, but we decided to roll it out in each grade so that students were exposed to this learning from day one,” said Life’s principal Charlene Dixon. 

Life’s lower school grades are learning about civics from the perspective of community rules and governance, while the second grade is tackling economic systems and concepts like supply and demand. Third and fourth grades will focus on the voting systems, how policies are created, and the responsibilities of citizens in a democratic system. 

Danielle Lisbon helped launch the civics unit at KIPP Life Academy in January. “Civics can be a lot more conversational than other subjects. We ask students to compare and contrast different forms of government — would they rather live in a democracy or a monarchy? We also have community agreements in our classrooms and these ideas echo those agreements,” said Lisbon.  

In early March, students at Life joined their peers at Seek and launched a student government of their own, as a capstone project designed to connect their classroom learning with real-life lessons. Fourth-grader Nakyya Hooker is one of the students who will run for president at Life. “I think learning about democracy is very important because people should be able to vote on the leaders they want to have to represent them. I like having the opportunity to run for school president,” she said. 

“At the elementary level, we’re setting that foundation in our system of government. We might spark a student’s interest where they go, ‘oh I had no idea there was a state legislature,’” said Life teacher Danielle Lisbon. “I want them to have that grounding in the branches of government and also the vocabulary of civics so that they’re more prepared when they get to middle school and beyond,” Lisbon added. 

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