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New UT Austin program to give students a voice in San Antonio politics

The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation at The University of Texas at Austin has received a one-year, $450,000 grant to implement “Student Voices,” a national initiative sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts to connect high school seniors to local mayoral campaigns.

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AUSTIN, Texas The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation at The University of Texas at Austin has received a one-year, $450,000 grant to implement “Student Voices,” a national initiative sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts to connect high school seniors to local mayoral campaigns.

During the 2000-2001 school year, students in San Antonio will work with individual teachers, the local media and mayoral candidates to better understand how politics works. Project coordinator Mary Dixson said of the San Antonio selection, “We feel that San Antonio is an ideal choice for this project since the mayoral election next spring will not have an incumbent, thereby generating the kind of excitement that will appeal to young people.”

The Student Voices project will provide computer equipment and funding to help students use the Internet to learn about issues in the mayoral campaign, do online research and create classroom web sites, and set up classroom visits and public forums with the candidates. The students will research issues of concern to the city’s youth, determine the candidates’ stands, publicize their findings through the Internet and the local media, and develop unique projects to showcase local politics.

Dr. Roderick Hart, UT Austin professor of speech communication and director of the Strauss Institute, explained the need for this effort by saying, “Far too many young people these days are turned off by politics. We need to change that. The Student Voices Project will reach directly into the lives of young San Antonians to increase their awareness of local problems, local opportunities. Our form of government is precious and young people need to understand that. More important, they need to believe it and practice it.”

The Student Voices Project will involve students throughout the greater San Antonio area. Thirty high schools representing eight different school districts will participate in the project, with students drawn primarily from government, economics, critical issues and history classes. Shirley Kearns, associate superintendent of instruction for Northeast Independent School District in San Antonio stated, “We are excited to work with the University of Texas to make politics more relevant to students. What is so important about this project is that children need to learn at an early age that citizenship is about voting and participation and that it begins at the local level.”

The Strauss Institute, named after Annette Greenfield Strauss, the former mayor of Dallas who died in December of 1998, was recently formed at UT Austin to develop new programs for increasing democratic understanding among the nation’s citizens and to conduct original research on civic involvement. According to Hart, “Far too many Americans are taking their civic heritage for granted these days. We need to increase the number of voters and volunteers in our communities, the very sort of thing Mayor Strauss spent her life doing.”

The selection of the Strauss Institute for the Annenberg-Pew project dovetails with one of UT President Larry Faulkner’s main initiatives for his presidency: to make the University a vital resource for K-12 education throughout the State of Texas. “The Student Voices Project connects directly to President Faulkner’s goal,” said Hart. “If all goes well in San Antonio, we hope to expand the project to other cities in Texas.”

For more information, also see Dr. Hart’s personal homepage: http://www.utexas.edu/coc/speech/faculty/hart/

or the Strauss Institute homepage: https://moody.utexas.edu/strauss/