Jewish Journal


August 10, 2000

Hands-on Democracy

An innovative program attracts Democratic delegates.


Delegates to the Democratic Convention will participate in a hands-on workshop in democracy and diversity from the youth perspective, thanks to an innovative program launched by a Jewish institution.The youTHink program uses the arts to help young people grapple with social issues and then act on their new awareness to initiate projects that will promote civic responsibility and tolerance in their schools and communities.

The delegate workshop will be held from 9-11 a.m. this Monday, Aug. 14, complemented by an extensive exhibit of student projects that will be open throughout the convention in the West Hall Internet Alley of the Convention Center.

Progenitors of youTHink are the Zimmer Discovery Children's Museum of the Jewish Community Centers and the Center for American Studies and Culture, an educational think tank.The program is pegged to students in public schools in grades 2 to 12 and, in a rough outline, might work as follows for eighth and ninth graders, says Esther Netter, the children's museum's executive director:Students might be shown a picture of the Statue of Liberty, triggering a discussion on what America stands for, why immigrants come here and the meaning of freedom, leading perhaps to such issues as race, poverty and the environment.

At the end of the lesson, students interpret what they have absorbed through an art project. One eighth grader, for instance, created a map of the United States covered with hands of different colors, sizes and ages.

In a commentary, the student explained that America extends helping hands to newcomers and that the different hands and fingers celebrate individuality and diversity.

As a follow-up action, the class put up a large display board where students could depict the school's diversity, and it also organized a school assembly to discuss the subject further.

"Our primary goals are to raise awareness of contemporary social issues, promote student self-expression and creativity, and empower young people so that they can make a difference in their schools and communities," says Netter.

The youTHink program began almost three years ago and has received a $1 million grant from the State of California Arts Council and additional support from private foundations.

Steven Spielberg's Righteous Persons Foundation has just announced a $100,000 grant for a youTHink teacher training program.

So far, some 30,000 students have participated in the pro-gram, and Netter hopes to double that number next year, as well as extend a more sophisti-cated version of youTHink to universities.

The original children's museum, My Jewish Discovery Place, was launched 10 years ago, has been widely replicated throughout the country, touching some 1 million children.

Now operating in cramped quarters at the Westside Jewish Community Center, the museum will move to more spacious facilities in the renovated Jewish Community Building by the end of October.

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