Return to Mankato Public Achievement Page Web Design: Joseph Kunkel Posted: 24, January 2002

chapter 9
Public Achievement: Collaboration, Action, and Civic Education

Joseph Kunkel, Clark Johnson, Heather Bakke, Jason Miller

Christenson, Mary, Marilyn Johnston, and Jim Morris. 2001. Teaching Together: School University Collaboration to Improve Social Studies Education. National Council for the Social Studies. 8555 Sixteenth Street. Suite 500. Silver Spring, Maryland 20910.

A Scene: Dakota Meadows Middle School, southern Minnesota

     As Thursday lunch ends, hundreds of seventh and eighth graders tumble back to their afternoon classes. A large van pulls up and out jump a dozen university undergraduates and their political science professor. After a quick check-in at the office they go separate ways. For the next forty minutes each university student coaches a team of middle school students. But even though they call themselves coaches and teams, this is no game; the activity is practical democracy.

The professor wanders, checking in quickly with each team. In a classroom, Teens for the Environment meets with a custodian to plan a lunch waste-recycling program. In the computer center a teen pregnancy team works on their abstinence website. In the teachers' lounge, loud boys who want to legalize fireworks critique their letters to the local newspaper. In a hallway, the Tobacco Hackers design a certificate to award to nonsmoking restaurants. In the lunchroom three teams meet trying to figure out how to realize their dream of a new teen center. The Child Abuse Bashers finish a poster advertising Abuse Awareness Day. Stomp on Racism is with the principal videotaping a TV public service announcement. The Pet Patrol is disappointed, wondering why no one is bringing items for their Humane Society supply drive. The Paper Pixies are creating a school newspaper in a school that had none.

The bell rings and the period ends. The weary university students straggle into the conference room for a thirty-minute debriefing meeting with the professor. Today a teacher sits in, listening and offering suggestions. The professor encourages them to reflect on something they studied in their Tuesday seminar. They write a few notes in their journals and head for the van. Some are quiet and worn, while others are giddy, laughing about "their kids" as they ride home from another day in the toughest class they've yet taken.

At Dakota Meadows Middle School students form citizen action teams around issues of their choice with Minnesota State University students serving as coaches. The university undergraduates study democracy in a political science course that provides a reflective, theoretical, and practical context for a rich mix of experiences with democratic action. Together, the middle school and university students create an incubator for community organizing and action. They adopt internal rules, write mission statements, set goals and research their particular issue or problem. They try to implement actions or projects to address their issue. They evaluate and learn from their experience.

Improving Social Studies and Civic Education

A variety of surveys show high levels of distrust in government, disinterest in political events and lack of attention to the news. The Final Report of the National Commission on Civic Renewal produced a particularly thorough discussion of these developments and also some signs for hope, for along with anti-political attitudes, there are stirring examples of youthful idealism.(1) Many youth are involved in service through schools, churches, and other organizations. Let’s take a look at three models of citizenship education and how they relate to these trends.

Two Familiar Models of Civic Education: Civics and Service

Civic education usually means students learn about the Constitution, the legislative process and the role of interest groups, parties and elections. Typically this is done through textbook based school curriculum, and may include in-class or extracurricular simulations such as Boys' State, Girls' State or Youth in Government. This model conveys valuable information, but its limitation is the implication that democracy is the work of public officials and a few hard-core political activists.

An alternative vision of citizenship is what some call communitarianism or service.(2) Scouts are encouraged to “do a good turn daily.” Church groups do service projects and go on mission trips. Many schools require service or offer service-learning courses. All these efforts hope to overcome the selfishness in our culture and generate a spirit of empathy, involvement and caring. They teach the valuable lesson that the good citizen is responsible and caring. The limitation is that while involvement is encouraged it is often cleansed of politics, self-interest, and controversy.

Public Work: Public Achievement's Organizing Concept 

A third model conceptualizes citizenship as public work.(3) When citizens work collectively to build and maintain their communities, they are taking charge of their future. It is work because it is important, difficult, and requires skills that can be learned. The work is public in that it is visible, open, concerns the larger population and is done by the public not just by public officials and political elites.

Democracy is more than a way to elect government officials or demand rights and services. Learning about democracy involves not just information, knowledge and civic literacy. It requires both skill development and a change in consciousness that comes from practical experience and theoretical reflection. The public work approach recognizes self-interest as a powerful motive to participation. With self-interest comes the controversy, differences, and need for compromise that citizens bring to the public arena.

Neither traditional model adequately conveys the value of politics. Students of civics may still identify politics with deceit and manipulation. Service is virtuous involvement, but may not confront power and controversy. The public work model bridges the gap between government courses and service-learning experiences, teaching the value and idealism of politics, and the pragmatism and craft of public problem solving.

Public Achievement is based on this conceptual model. Students don't simply study the Founding Fathers; they become the founders of their own small group democracies. Students choose public issues and problems that arise out of their own experience and interests. They are not pretending or practicing; they are doing real public work. Because of this they show a remarkable degree of passion and are usually highly motivated. What students do feels real and important. They make a difference.

Public Achievement and Social Studies

According to the National Council for the Social Studies "the primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”(4) The learning objectives of Public Achievement (PA) make real the aims of social studies as defined by the NCSS. The objectives of PA are the same for both university and middle school students to:

·      Become more motivated to be involved and develop an increased civic responsibility.

·      Feel a sense of empowerment and become more optimistic about their potential to influence public events.

·      Develop political skills and be better able to utilize practical techniques of influence.

·      Better understand political concepts such as citizenship, power, democracy, diversity, and interest.

Public Achievement is perhaps most powerful in its authenticity. When students experience educational opportunities that are real and valuable to them, they hold onto what they learn. With authentic learning students not only retain content material, but also experience a challenging thinking process in which they resolve complex issues that have no clear cut answer.(5) Once students in PA decide what issues to address, they start planning and working towards solutions. The solutions are typically not transparent and may not even be attainable by the team. But they experience the challenge of finding that elusive pathway to a personally important political aim.

While working toward their goals students become engaged in a variety of activities through which they practice and refine their public skills. By year's end our students, are able to name a diverse set of skills that they have acquired as a result of PA. In a written evaluation of the program middle school students expressed that they learned how to: “Speak in front of people, cooperate with other people; ” “Plan a long-term project; ” “Introduce yourself to people and get them interested in what you’re trying to ask or prove to them;”  “Make proper phone calls and surveys; “ “Plan a budget.”

When the middle school students were asked what they liked about PA many of their responses reflected feelings of empowerment and community involvement: “It’s cool that kids have a say in our community.” “Most people think that teens are just lazy, but not in this program, we are getting things done.” “We can actually change the world into a better place.” “It proves that kids are as important as anybody else is and that we can make a difference.”

The students’ progress is not lost on their coaches who express surprise at the accomplishments of their teams. “At our second to last meeting I sat down and had a talk with the group about what they truly learned. They were using words like freedom, improvement, influence, community and power. I found this incredible.”

Educating Tomorrow's Social Studies Teachers

 Public Achievement is also an experiment in teacher training since most of our coaches are studying to be social studies teachers. They develop a more sophisticated yet practical understanding of democracy and become better prepared to be active democratic citizens. One coach wrote in her journal, “I think that this class has made me a better citizen because now I am more willing to get involved in politics to try to better the community.” They also become aware of developmental abilities of teenagers and learn how to motivate students to learn on their own. They inevitably compare the active, student-centered and democratic pedagogy of Public Achievement with a more standard approach. One university student wrote,

“I will be student teaching in the fall and this was a great opportunity to experiment and experience dealing with students on my own. I now feel I can design a classroom and teach a curriculum which will help students gain the skills essential to become socially responsible.”


Our Process of Collaboration and Some Tangible Outcomes

            It’s time to take a closer look at how Public Achievement became part of the culture of Dakota Meadows Middle School and the social studies teacher preparation program at Minnesota State University.   We start with what happens in PA throughout the year. We then explore the nature of the collaboration focussing on the relationships among educators and between middle school and university students.  Finally, we give some examples of the actions and projects undertaken by PA teams. 

Life Cycle of the Public Achievement Year

Middle school students sign up for PA tentatively in the spring, about the same time university students are registering for the class. By September we need to adjust the middle school enrollment to match the expected number of coaches. We aim for an average team size of around six or seven. In recent years we have involved approximately 180 middle school students and 26-30 university student coaches. The university citizenship class begins with about eight hours of orientation and preparation. University students spend a couple of hours with middle school staff and students on a site visit to learn about the policies, expectations, and layout of the school and to discuss the developmental stage of this age group. They also give up a Saturday in September for a orientation workshop we hold to familiarize them with PA and give them some ideas for how to start coaching.

When Dakota Meadows starts, we spend three Thursdays getting ready to form the issue teams. The challenge is to get students to think seriously about issues and to consider the feasibility of their choices. We begin by putting each university student with a random group of middle schoolers to share expectations and brainstorm issue ideas. The second week, coaches join teachers in homerooms in exercises to get everyone (even students not in PA) to suggest ideas for PA teams. The third week, at the Issues Assembly, middle school students stand and nominate issues or problems for teams. Later in homeroom, PA participants vote to rank their choices of what to work on for the entire year. The site coordinator, professor, and teachers confer to put students in the teams. Most students get their first choice. In their university seminar, coaches choose teams, a fateful decision since they will coach the same team for nine months. Each team gets one coach and four to nine middle school students.

Teams meet every Thursday for 40 minutes. For the first few weeks coaches follow an agenda suggested in our coach manual.(6) Coaches are encouraged to use and build on certain PA essentials such as using a written agenda, team building exercises, rotation of leadership roles, discussion of democratic concepts and discussing the problems, projects and issues that motivated them to join. Teams write mission statements and adopt rules. The coach is expected to model the facilitator role, and introduce other roles which students should take turns performing in the future. Teams research their issues through field trips, phone calls, surveys, library and/or electronic research. We have found that the teams who interact early with the world outside their group, through speakers, interviews or field trips, are more likely to develop a realistic action plan. Without these experiences some teams get stuck between utopian dreams and feelings of powerlessness. Teams who accomplish some action or project usually learned how to bite off a small chunk of the big problem with which they started. 

As the weeks roll by, there are ups and downs as each team creates its own history. In spring, teams become aware that time is running out. Some kick into high gear, cramming to "get something accomplished." Others work steadily to implement clear plans. Some having been unsuccessful with "plan A" try to develop a "plan B.” Others do not.  As the year ends the coaches help the teams evaluate not only what they "accomplished," but also what they learned and how they were changed.

The result is an explosive burst of student activity. Table 1 shows that most of the students are gaining experience in skills and activities working both within groups and in influencing those outside the group.

 Table 1. Outcomes for Public Achievement Teams, 1999-2000

Coaches reported how many 7th and 8th graders did the following, at least once. 

Team:  Internal Skills and Activities



Served as a meeting facilitator



Helped adopt a mission statement for a group



Helped adopt rules for a group



Discussed and resolved a difference of opinion within a group



Helped shape a meeting agenda and used that agenda in a group



Voluntarily completed task/homework showing responsibility



Negotiated, bargained and compromised within their group




External Political and Professional Skills



Interviewed/visited with adult authority



Did library or internet research on group issue



Helped design a survey and analyze the results



Helped write a petition and get signatures



Wrote a letter to a public official or other decision maker



Negotiated, bargained, compromised with people outside group



Spoke in public



Wrote a grant



Concepts and Ideas



Discussed meanings of citizenship, their role in a democracy




Educator to Educator Collaboration

This student to student teamwork is nourished by an institutional collaboration between the middle school and the university. Departments of political science do not normally collaborate with K-12 schools. As the political science professor, I visit the middle school weekly with my coaches. I get to know the principal, the teachers, the counselors and support staff at the middle school. The principal gives the program license and helps me and my students build relationships with teachers and staff. A former coach works as a Site Coordinator, (sometimes part-time as school staff, sometimes as a volunteer) to manage program details and build relationships.  An Americorps (national service) member assists her.

The collaboration grew out of a conversation between Jane Schuck, the principal of Dakota Meadows and myself. The social studies faculty and other teachers gave their approval prior to launching the program in 1997.

Initially, we offered the program only in the 7th grade. At the end of that first year, teachers petitioned the principal asking that PA be expanded from 7th to include 8th grade as well. In the second year we accommodated all interested students and this resulted in teams that were too large. We currently cap enrollment at about 180. The student excitement also put pressure on other middle school elective activities scheduled at the same time. The teachers and principal creatively adjusted the school schedule to resolve these problems.

Table 2. Enrollment in Mankato PA



Middle School Students

University Student Coaches


















As a teacher at the middle school, I saw how the principal’s enthusiastic response to the philosophy of PA helped catapult our school and the university into a new relationship. Our staff was brought into the planning of how Public Achievement would become part of the school. Dakota Meadows has always been a community-based school hosting many groups and organizations and providing meeting places when needed.  An early challenge of PA was for the school to provide space. With one-third of the school in PA, several teachers agreed to consolidate study halls thus freeing some classrooms for PA. Still not every PA team gets a classroom; some meet in the lunchroom, the library or at tables in hallways.

We are gradually strengthening the university - middle school relationship. Teachers meet with the professor and site coordinator during the summer to compare schedules, discuss challenges, and agree on innovations. The Site Coordinator works in the school and helps grow a network of supportive and enthusiastic teachers. Teachers have assisted in coach training, issue brainstorming, team formation, and discipline issues. PA generated student action can disrupt the status quo in the school. For example, students want to administer surveys, make phone calls, meet during class time, put up posters, discuss policies. Teachers have suggested policies to manage the fallout from this activity. Several teachers have attended national PA conferences. We would like to see a mentoring aspect added to the equation, where several college coaches would be linked with a seasoned teacher who would offer her or his wisdom and expertise as a resource. This year several teachers will serve as the first Public Achievement Liaisons (PALS). PA teams will also set the agenda for some homeroom sessions, and coaches will try to reinforce vocabulary and other learning from teachers' classes.

We have seen the positive impact of PA on the school and vice versa.  There are inevitable challenges and disruptions. But problems create change and change is the perfect atmosphere for learning not only for middle school students and college students, but for teachers and university professors as well.

Student to Student Collaborative Relationships

There is something special about putting middle school students and university students together. For the middle school students, it’s a chance to interact with young adults who look like they jumped out of a Mountain Dew ad; teachers, but not quite teachers. To the middle schoolers, their coaches are far enough removed from their own age to be respected but close enough to be “cool.” One university student described the relationship in an advisory letter to future coaches. “You have the luxury of existing somewhere in between teacher and student. You may not get the respect of a teacher all the time, but you will get the benefit of being seen as a friend and somebody that can be trusted.”

Our university students learn how to be facilitative leaders and cooperate with youth in community action. They better understand the developmental abilities of middle school youth, and get to know well the young people with whom they work. Leaving the campus they learn about the lives of the youth and the power structure of a local community that may be new to them.

Our university students volunteer that Public Achievement is one of the most impactful experiences they have had in their preparation to teach social studies. Their citizenship course helps them experience democracy not just as a governmental system but as a principle of life, and as both a purpose and methodology of education. They see how democratic experience changes the participants.  At the end of the year one university student shared: 

I can honestly say that my life has changed as a result of this class. It is hard to explain all that I have learned because some of it has touched me in ways that I don’t even understand yet.  I cannot imagine another experience that could have taught me more than I have learned about democracy, citizenship, and politics in this class. For me, mixing the readings with the active learning that Public Achievement provided was an intense, frustrating, challenging, and exciting learning experience; an experience I will certainly carry with me forever. (PA coach, 1999)


Examples of PA Teams’ Actions and Projects

The most tangible outcome of the project is the public work of the civic action teams. Here we mention a few examples. Our website tells a fuller history of each team ( /~jak3/pa). Teens for the Environment organized a school-recycling program and cut lunch waste by 20%. TheTobacco Hackers identified nonsmoking restaurants, met with business owners and awarded certificates. Rage Against Poverty sponsored a benefit music show and raised $500 for local charity. The Pet Patrol published a brochure on responsible pet ownership and organized a supply drive for Humane Society. Teen Trouble Solvers researched, published and distributed a brochure on teen suicide and depression. The Cuddly Counselors worked with the school counselors to insure more privacy for students seeking help. Teen pregnancy teams produced a website, a radio public service announcement and an informational packet. Many other teams report small victories and a larger sense of possibilities.

Let's look in a little more depth at one team. During our second year five boys and one girl, all eighth graders, formed a team interested in transportation issues in general and bicycling in particular. They called themselves the Biker Likers. Their coach was a young woman who is now a social studies teacher. She set high expectations, helped them see options, let them run their own meetings and make their own decisions. Together they paid careful attention to acting democratically in the group and respectfully in public. They talked through the issue and their belief that people their age relied heavily on bicycles for independence and transportation. They adopted a mission statement that committed them to encourage bicycling. They designed and analyzed a survey of their classmates to identify priority needs. They modified their mission statement to focus particularly on increasing the number of bicycle racks around town. Based on the survey they identified particular businesses, patronized by their peers, where there were no bike racks. They developed an action plan, divided chores, and began to phone and visit businesses to assess interest in installing new racks. As the year was coming to a close the only business willing to talk about cost sharing was a small Dairy Queen ice cream store. Several team members met with the owner who was serious and challenging but agreeable. The team then researched bike rack styles, costs, and applied for and won one of our in-house PA minigrants.  With the storeowner they agreed upon the amount they and he would contribute. At that point the school year ended. But they persevered and did order a bike rack. When it came in June they assembled it with the owner's help. With the adult leaders they organized a "Grand Opening" of the bike rack and invited their coach back to town. This little ribbon cutting event netted both TV and newspaper coverage. Perhaps the "opening" of a bike rack seems a small event. But to those of us who saw the process it was a big public achievement.

The heart of the Public Achievement collaboration is the relationships within the student teams. In the case of the Biker Likers it was the six eighth graders and their university student coach who made this team a success. The adult relationships and broader institutional cooperation between university and middle school launches and nurtures these teams.  PA does improve as we build closer relationships between educators who do not normally interact professionally. But the purpose of these adult relationships is to better coach the coaches and create a middle school where this kind of participatory democracy is encouraged.

The Teacher-Author Talks to Teachers


As a new staff member at Dakota Meadows Middle School, I was not involved with the development and implementation of Public Achievement. Initially, the only thing I knew about the group was that college students were working with 7th and 8th graders. When I asked my students what they did in Public Achievement they told me they worked on projects that interest them. As a social studies teacher, I really warmed up to the idea of students having an active role in the community. I asked my advisees to keep me informed throughout the year about their PA teams. But the power of Public Achievement didn't really hit home until my advisee Susan asked for some help with a project.

Susan and three teammates needed a teacher supervisor so they could do some phoning after school. I invited them into my classroom and continued to grade papers. This group proceeded to call every social hall in Mankato, looking for a venue to hold a concert to raise money for the homeless. I was awe struck by their professional phone skills. They asked very pertinent questions about cost, insurance, and availability. I couldn't believe that I was watching a group of 8th grade girls!

It was after this incident that I began to notice that PA members had a “tool kit" of useful skills learned in Public Achievement. Phone calling, decision-making, surveying, petitioning, collaborating, and many other skills filled their newfound tool kit. Students were learning first hand the skills that we all need to be effective participants in our community. No class in middle school provides these experiences and skills. Now anytime Susan or her group members need to call a local official they can reach into their toolkit and pull our their phone calling skill.  

After this in my social studies classes, I looked to see if Public Achievement made any difference in what my students knew.  Initially, I thought that there would not be a connection between Human Heritage, a survey course of ancient cultures, and Public Achievement. After all, what could ancient civilizations have to do with the Biker Likers or Rage Against Poverty? For many students the development of civilizations was a non-issue. To them civilization was something that had always existed and they didn’t question when or why it happened. When I asked my classes why civilizations developed, the typical 8th grade answers were:  “It just happened,” or 'People were forced to by kings.”

In discussions, however, I was surprised to find some students who used words like “community” and “ownership.” They talked about how life was better when people worked together. They pointed out that the people living in Mesopotamia had some common challenges and resources. They had to figure out a way to grow food, and while they had two rivers, they needed to make this water useful. These common needs and resources and how people handled them, led to civilization. These students articulated the way group efforts can overcome seemingly insurmountable goals.  

Later in the year, when we were talking about the Greeks and democracy, a cluster of students surfaced who could talk about the positive aspects of democracy and how democracy differed from other forms of government.  They could clearly differentiate the Greek form of democracy from our own.  Curious, I finally asked these students why they knew so much about government and many of them replied, “Public Achievement.”  At that moment, I saw a critical tool in the Public Achievement kit was an understanding of the concept of democracy.


This form of hands-on activity is perfect for the energetic middle school student.  The earlier we can show students how they can make a difference in their community and their importance as a citizen, the better off our society will become.  Middle school students have wide ranges of behavior, but they are able to commit to a project that means something to them personally. When the topic is meaningful, there are no limits on learning.

               Howard Gardner argues that we should educate for understanding.  This means "a sufficient grasp of concepts, principles, or skills so that one can bring them to bear on new problems and situations, deciding in which ways one's present competencies can suffice and in which ways one may require new skills or knowledge.(7) Public achievement gives this opportunity to students. Whether it is making phone calls to local agencies or organizing a school assembly focused on their issue, students have real learning experiences through which they develop skills and put them into authentic practice. The skills learned through PA are skills that will carry over into other areas of their lives, and will stay with them in the future.

            PA fits perfectly with Gardner's belief that education for understanding comes when students work in environments that challenge them:

to adopt the roles that are ultimately occupied by skilled adult practitioners, and to engage in the kind of self-assessment that allows one ultimately to take responsibility for one's own learning. Involvement in significant projects and regular discourse with one’s peers increase the possibility that one’s own stereotypes and misconceptions will be challenged and that a more realistic and comprehensive perspective will begin to emerge.(8) 


Public Achievement creates a dream situation for committed educators. We see our students taking upon themselves the desire and motivation to learn in a hands-on setting. What could be better than that?

The Professor-Author Talks to Professors

Public Achievement varies quite a bit from site to site. Even where college students coach teams in K-12 schools, the special culture, structure, and personalities of site and collaborators creates a distinctive situation.


A professor considering PA must realize that there is no template or program to follow. Flexibility and an experimental attitude are essential. PA, like democracy, requires attention to many relationships between diverse actors. I often feel that we are experiencing a set of contradictory demands or dilemmas. Doing the best we can and trying to find the right balance is the challenge of continuous improvement.

There are many logistical challenges. Scheduling is an intial problem since PA teams need to meet all year and university classes only run for a 15 week semester. When our students get permission to register in the fall they are told that they must agree to register also for spring semester. They earn 2 credits each semester. As professor I put more time and work into this class than any other. I can do it because it is a labor of love. A small "alternative assignment" (teaching 11 credit hours per semester rather than the normal 12) helps a little.

Since PA aims for democratic initiative, it is hard to know how much to intervene. I think of this as the trade-off between "let it be" and "make it so." This dilemma can be seen in three aspects. First, coaches must permit their teams to find their own way, but they must also help teams see that democracy is self-rule, not anarchy. Disruptive students cannot be allowed to destroy the group, but coaches cannot act as dictators. Secondly, the choice of issues for teams is critical, but we adults cannot impose our issue ideas, even though we think we know what might be more feasible. Finally those of us who "coach the coaches" wonder how much and when should we intervene to advise or correct coaches (or teams). Coaches need a lot of discretion if they are to really experiment. But we cannot simply cut them loose and not give them help, advice, and direction.

I also feel a strong tension between my own emphasis on concepts and democratic theory and the university students' need for practical suggestions related to coaching. Both theory and practice are needed but there seems to be a trade-off. Students want help with the "how" of PA coaching. I want them to learn the "what" and "why" of democracy. We wrestle with the dialectical opposites described in David Kolb's model of experiential learning.(9) Our goals are learning and empowerment. But to learn and become effective, we must find ways to connect concrete experiences, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and practical experimentation.

There is also the dilemma of the democratic classroom. I am used to being the expert, but if we are to learn democracy, our class must act democratically. In the Tuesday seminar students are challenged to shape the agenda, lead discussions, and evaluate the learning activities. This takes them out of the comfort zone they are used to in more typical classes. But I cannot abdicate my responsibility to set high standards and set the direction. Public Achievement forces me to experiment with active learning and democratic discussion. It causes me to evaluate my teaching style and approaches to all my classes.

Our students must complete a set of education courses and a host of required content courses in the social sciences. We added a required class on citizenship to the social studies major because we knew we wanted more attention to citizen participation. Because Joe decided to embrace an active learning model, we got a whole lot more than more political science content in the major. The citizenship class gave a surprising bonus because both the content and the method emphasize participation and empowerment of learners.  Rarely do university courses so integrally link theory and practice.   

While faculty in professional education could guide such a project, we think it is especially advantageous that Citizenship is offered in political science. After all, a better grounding in content areas is often cited as a critical need for tomorrow's teachers. Concepts such as citizenship, power, democracy, interest, and community find their disciplinary home in political science, not education. Civic education is still addressed in our social studies methods course, but now our students enter this class with a nine-month experience of guiding young people in team building and civic action. As a result of this common experience, I notice that students in my methods class can articulate a vision of secondary social studies infused with democracy, citizenship, and student initiative.  These are the same kinds of changes that Heather and Jason see in their students.

Joe sees these changes in his students, but also in himself. Joe has also become much more involved in our Social Studies Council (which governs the program.) Previously, Joe had limited experience with secondary social studies like many of his colleagues. Now because of PA, he has a self-interest at stake. He has achieved many of the outcomes that his students have achieved.  He better understands middle school youth, what they can do, and possibilities for citizenship education at the secondary level of schooling.



We recognize that the realities of political life will always present us with limited resources and we need to do our best within those limits. Some of what we have learned about available resources may be applicable to other locations.

Institutional Collaborators

      The key resource that allowed us to establish Mankato Public Achievement was a committed professor and university and a welcoming middle school administration and staff. We believe that a partnership between a university or college and a K-12 school is the best model for a successful Public Achievement program. But it is not the only model. Youth groups or clubs are sometimes the "sites" while parents or volunteers are the coaches. But the higher ed/K-12 collaboration is well suited to emphasize both experience and learning within a culture that values collaborative experimentation and continuous improvement.

Coach Mentors

At the end of each year we have been fortunate to have three to five coaches who want to continue the learning experience. Sometimes they register for independent study credit, sometimes they work as Americorps members, and sometimes they simply volunteer. Whatever the case, they serve as coach mentors and help us work with a Citizenship class of twenty five to thirty coaches. These veterans give input on course planning, help with coach training, try to mentor the new coaches and occasionally serve as substitute coaches. They visit a cluster of teams and help keep the professor informed.


      The reason we prefer the model of a partnership between a university and a K-12 school is that university students make great coaches. As part of a class they can be prepared on both the practical and conceptual levels. The experience is so different from their other classes that once they understand PA, almost all are enthusiastic, and eager to join the experiment. Students in many majors could be successful, but our social studies majors are especially well suited for Public Achievement because it fits so well their personal career preparation.

Center for Democracy and Citizenship

We are part of the national Public Achievement network whose headquarters is 80 miles away at the University of Minnesota's Center for Democracy and Citizenship. The Center publishes a coaches guide for Public Achievement.  It connects us with visionary activists and educators trying to implement and improve Public Achievement at thirty to forty sites in the Midwest. Our university students attend at least one coach conference at the Center and some organize workshop sessions.  Our middle school students also have attended the large kickoff events, youth conferences, and year-end celebrations we organize with the Center. In this way our students experience Public Achievement as a national movement and sharing stories with people of various ages and backgrounds.

The Center for Democracy and Citizenship, 130 Humphrey Institute, University of

Minnesota, 301 19th Ave. S, Minneapolis, MN 55455, 612-625-0142,




        It does not take a lot of money to launch PA. Our first year we had virtually no outside funding. Our second and third years we operated on budgets of $3,000 to $6,000. We provide transportation to get university students to and from the middle school and participants to national PA events. We also offer about $2,000 to the PA teams for their expenses, but require them to apply for shares of this money as competitive mini-grants. We provide T-shirts at the end of the program and food at celebrations. 

        Most of our funding is from the Mankato Area Healthy Youth program. MAHY's mission is to build assets in our community's youth following the national and local research of the Search Institute. MAHY administers grants from the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning to agencies such as Mankato PA who are committed to building youth assets. Mankato PA commits to  building specific assets identified by the Search Institute as important for the healthy development of youth.   Your local community may have organizations with missions similar to Mankato Area Healthy Youth. We expect you will find funding agencies interested in the combination of democratic idealism, real-world practicality, fun, and intergenerational mentoring that is central to Public Achievement.

Mankato Area Healthy Youth. P.O. Box 3367. Mankato, MN 56002-3367.

507-387-5643.  800-450-5643. (


Search Institute. 1998. 700 S. Third Street, Suite 210. Minneapolis, MN 55415.

800-888-7828. (


Americorps National Service Program

        Another key partner for us has been the Americorps program. For three years we have been accepted as an Americorps site through which we can recruit one of the applicants accepted for membership in the program. Americorps members contribute 38 hours each week to the site they are serving. In our case they work at Dakota Meadows Middle School as part of our site coordination effort. Three of our coaches who graduated did another year in PA as an Americorps member. They have coached teams, done clerical work, helped with PA events outside of school and have been extremely valuable additions to our team. The service mission of Americorps is a reason that PA sites throughout the nation have been accepted as community partner sites and invited to hire members.

Corporation for National Service. 1201 New York Avenue, NW. Washington, D.C.

20525.  202-606-5000 (


Local Media

        It is important to make the young people's work public. Youth who take the initiative to make positive change, assert a leadership role in the community and who use the vocabulary of politics are newsworthy. Our community and campus newspapers, and local TV and radio have given coverage to the work of our teams.



      PA has not only increased a sense of empowerment and responsibility of the coaches and teams. We teachers and professors are more optimistic than ever about citizens’ potential to influence public events. In building our collaboration we have had to use many of the democratic skills and strategies taught in PA. Our understanding of concepts such as citizenship, power, democracy, diversity and interest is much richer. We are more willing and able to cooperate and improve our communities, our nation and our world.



1.   The National Commission on Civic Renewal. A Nation of Spectators: How Civic Disengagement Weakens America and What We Can Do About It. College Park, Md: University of Maryland, 1998. 

2.   Boyte, Harry C., and James Farr. “The Work of Citizenship and the Problem of Service-Learning.” In R. M. Battistoni and W. E. Hudson (Eds.) Experiencing Citizenship: Concepts and Methods for Service-Learning in Political Science (Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education, 1997).

3.   Ibid.; Boyte, H. C. and N. N. Kari. Building America: The Democratic Promise of Public Work. Philadelphia, Pa: Temple University Press, 1996

4.     National Council for the Social Studies. “A Vision of Powerful Teaching and Learning in the Social Studies:  Building Social Understanding and Civic Efficacy” in Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: Expectations of Excellence (Washington, D.C.: NCSS, 1994), 157.

5.     Schnitzer, Sandra. “Designing an Authentic Assessment,” Educational Leadership 50 (April 1993): 32-35.

6.     For a copy of the manual see the Mankato Public Achievement website. /~jak3/pa

7.     Gardner, H.  The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1991, 18.

8.     Ibid., 224

9.     Kolb, D. A. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1984.

10.  Erlanson, B. and R. Hildreth. Building Worlds, Transforming Lives, Making History: A Coaches Guide to Public Achievement. Minneapolis, Mn: The Center for Democracy and Citizenship, 1997.