When my District of Columbia public high school, The School Without Walls, closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, all of my courses moved to an online platform. Each day I log on, I’m amazed at how beneficial technology is at a time like this. At the same time, I can’t help but worry about the large number of students who don’t have access to the internet or a computer.
All students should be provided the resources they need to succeed, but not all of my classmates have these critical tools. This is why, now more than ever, it is so important that everyone complete the 2020 Census. The census is currently underway, and it is easy and safe for adults to respond at 2020census.gov.
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Students might be wondering what their role is in ensuring everyone in their home is counted. High school students like me might not be interested in the 2020 Census. But if they’ve been paying attention these last few weeks, they should see why it matters to students like us — because census responses will affect how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding go to supporting our communities for the next 10 years.
I became interested in the 2020 Census after a teacher at my high school introduced me to a social entrepreneurship program called LearnServe. LearnServe helps students create “social ventures,” which are projects that benefit our neighborhoods and schools by tackling issues like poverty, discrimination, climate change and civic engagement. Through this program, I’ve been able to create a plan to address the lack of resources in underfunded school systems. A key step to help solve this issue, and many others, is to participate in the 2020 Census.
Many people do not understand the importance of the census because they don’t know what it is. The census is a once-a-decade population count of everyone living in the United States, and it’s mandated by the U.S. Constitution. One reason this process is crucial is that it determines how many seats every state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. Responses to the census also inform federal funding to support vital programs for education, employment, transportation, public policy, health care and more — services we are counting on now more than ever. Community organizations use data from the census to establish social-service programs, community action projects, child care centers and other programs that benefit people living in the area.
Federal resources for academic, technology and after-school programs provide public school students like me with incredible opportunities to learn and grow. Students also rely on federal funding for special-education services, local libraries, school buildings and transportation, free and reduced-price lunches, and many programs that broaden the in-school learning experience.
A great resource to learn more about the census is the U.S. Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools website. It includes videos, activities and more that explain what the census does and why it is vital to respond. It even has tools to help you map out your future after high school.
We all have an important role as citizens to speak out, represent ourselves and advocate for the needs of others. And what better and easier way than by ensuring everyone is counted in the 2020 Census? For my peers who may be reading this and feeling powerless in the face of the pandemic, it is important to know that you are not powerless — in fact, you can take steps to support your community right now that will have a major impact on shaping your future.
I strongly urge all students to encourage parents, guardians and neighbors to respond to the 2020 Census for their households. You can help them if they have trouble going online or if they are not proficient in English. Tell them to be sure to include all children in their home, including infants who were born on or before April 1. Getting everyone we know to complete the census is our way of being heard and represented.
This story about civics education and the census was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for our newsletter.
Ihechikarageme Munonye is a sophomore at The School Without Walls High School in Washington, D.C.