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Focus On Basics

Volume 2, Issue D ::: December 1998

Voter Education, Registration, and Action (VERA)

by Andrea Nash
For several years, we at the New England Literacy Resource Center (NELRC) have made civic literacy and community participation one of our priorities. Through the Voter Education, Registration, and Action (VERA) project, we have worked to build the capacity of programs to integrate these areas into basic education and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teaching. As part of the VERA project, in 1998, four regional teams of teachers investigated how and with what support they could use community involvement projects for developing skills in literacy and participatory democracy.

Each regional team was facilitated by a practitioner convenor, who guided the group in a three-tiered inquiry process. First, teachers worked with their own classes to identify community connections, concerns, and questions, and then to consider ways the group could intervene to make a difference. Second, they developed their own inquiry questions about trying to facilitate such a community action project within their various teaching contexts and constraints. And third, they documented their work so that the NELRC, with the team convenors, could analyze the collective experience and learn how to best support such projects in the future.

The teachers shared their data in team meetings; it was discussed and compared in convenor meetings, and fully analyzed by VERA staff. In the future, we will build in time and resources to support an inclusive process throughout. The collective data from the four teams led us to the following conclusions about what people need to become active:

A sense of connection to a community or an issue. These connections were discovered as groups discussed questions such as what community means, which communities people feel part of, and their vision of healthier communities.

To find role models in ourselves or others. As demonstrated by Deborah Johnson's class, groups approached this by talking about the ways local folks have taken control of their own lives or made a difference in the community. In this way, people are reminded of their own ability to contribute and that change is possible.

Skills that prepare us to take informed action.
 These might include research, interviewing, public speaking, advocacy, media literacy, organizing, and the underlying basic communication skills. In the VERA projects, the practice and rehearsal of these skills was crucial for preparing people to act with knowledge and confidence.

To act on what we learned, we are putting together a Civic Literacy and Community Involvement Sourcebook that builds on the ideas, models, and materials developed through VERA and other participatory democracy projects. Look for announcements regarding its availability.

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL