Tips for Community-Engaged & Civic Education in a COVID-19 World

Without a doubt, social distancing has made community-engaged learning and service-learning more challenging. But there are plenty of ways to connect our courses to the world around us in a remote setting. Click below for ideas.

  • Partner with community agencies for project-based learning; having community clients makes application of content much more real and the learning more impactful.
  • Provide remote support – online research, content creation, social media, outreach, feedback collection and analysis – for local community agencies (they need it!). Reach out to RISE for ideas.
  • Plan a community food drive, through which each student collects items for their local food bank or food pantry as a part of the class.
  • Have students learn about what the City of Bellevue is doing and ask them to participate to make their voices heard in shaping policy.
  • Ask students to create a proposal for a local organization for how it can improve it’s capacity, launch a specific program, or achieve a goal.
  • Plan a project in which students contribute to a resource guide for a specific organization’s clients or for a community.
  • Provide much needed crisis and counseling support, but from your own home, through the Crisis Text Line.
  • Engage students in RISE’s Bags to Bedrolls project, which supports unsheltered people while addressing plastic usage.
  • Encourage students to make chew toys for dogs in shelters using old rags or t-shirts; watch this video to learn how.

  • Ask your students to share websites and social media profiles about causes that they care about, and reflect about how they support these causes digitally.
  • Ask students to create an online social media campaign that highlights the inequities in educational, justice, healthcare, etc. systems. (idea provided by Youth Chaplaincy Coalition)
  • Create plans for activism and community organizing around topics of local or global importance using a toolkit.
  • Ask students to take the 15-minute Diagnostic Tool for Pathways for Public Service & Civic Engagement (found on Civic Impact site), review ideas for Civic Impact, and discuss ways in which we can all engage our communities.
  • Ask students to create a civic impact by commenting on public legislation, writing to / calling elected officials, attending virtual city council meetings, attending virtual community organizing meetings, etc. Review RISE’s Civic Impact page for ideas, or contact RISE to discuss.
  • Use platforms like Democracy.io to enable students to write directly to their Senators and Representatives (being a citizen not required). Have students research and write to their local officials or media.
  • Students can create ‘position papers‘ on certain policies or campaigns. For example, Defunding Police: why or why not? People could organize a virtual debate and ask other students / classes to attend. (idea provided by Devi Consulting)
  • Create works of art as a form of protest.
  • Gamify civics. Make learning about them more fun.
  • Ask students to attend virtual Civic Saturdays and then reflect on the experience.
  • Pick up neighborhood trash and post a video talking about why this matters.
  • Participate in the Changemaker Challenge by using art to recognize those who contribute to their communities; for each recognition, the Bezos Family Foundation will donate to youth and educators.

  • Search Facing History and Ourselves for quality social justice curricula, resources, and videos.
  • Have serious discussions about racism, xenophobia, and anti-Blackness with the backdrop of COVID-19 (e.g. “Wuhan virus”) and/or protests for Black Lives. Reach out to the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for suggestions about how to lead these discussions.
  • Have students play a game of Spent (together or individually) and reflect on the challenges faced by those who live paycheck-to-paycheck, and how this connects to homelessness
  • Ask students to read aloud books written by Black, Indigenous, Latino/a/x, Asian, and other People of Color to youth, either in their own families or through schools or community organizations.
  • Engage in storytelling to magnify voices that are often unheard or muffled, using Culture Surge as a possible model and/or source of materials.
  • Ask students to sit in on cases at their local juvenile court, and then reflect on how what they saw perpetuates inequities in the criminal justice system. All court sessions are open to the public, and many are currently being streamed.
  • Write letters or cards to youth in juvenile detention, specifically around holidays like Christmas, Pride, etc.

  • Utilize the online National Issues Forums Institute PDF booklets to have deliberative dialogues about important issues (found on the Service-Learning SharePoint). You can also facilitate civic reflections using pre-made discussion plans. Similarly, utilize the guides at Living Room Conversations and the Interactivity Foundation (on SharePoint).
  • Foster community dialogues, through which your students have a deep discussion with 5-10 members of their own communities (beyond family) about topics being covered in class, and then report back on the process and outcomes.
  • Lead your own virtual discussions about complex topics in a fun and visual way using Consider.It.
  • Host a “Hot Drinks and Hot Topics,” an informal chat about a current event or issue that is relevant to the course (all while sipping hot beverages).
  • Ask students to invite friends and family to join the class for a conversation about a challenging topic, with the (trained) students facilitating the small group dialogues

  • Invite guest speakers! We’re all staring at Zoom these days anyway; have them stare at Zoom with the rest of your class.
  • Use TED Talks instead of texts.
  • Access public records and laws as a source of information to help based course content in a community framing.
  • Incorporate virtual Place-Based Education (PBE) into your course by utilizing local natural, built, historic, or cultural environment (i.e. institutions, spaces, landscapes, subcultures, or heritage) to teach content. Talk with RISE to brainstorm how to use the power of place to teach concepts and content.
  • Require students to listen to a podcast and then reflect on their learning, connections to the course, etc. Podcasts could be about specific issues (e.g. Ear Hustle for Criminal Justice), or can be of the student’s choosing (within reason)
  • Ensure that your sources and readings reflect a diversity of histories and perspectives, specifically by building Black, Indigenous, Brown, Women, and Queer voices into the teaching material.
  • Update your curriculum using Native Cases to help you frame teaching topics from the Indigenous perspective, culture, and history.
  • Invite RISE as a guest speaker to lead a session about a specific community issue. Some topics are on RISE’s Community-Engaged & Civic Education page.

  • Talk about and reflect on the effects of COVID-19 on the community.
  • Engage (online) with policy-makers, business leaders, healthcare providers, and nonprofits, and think through this pandemic through their lenses.
  • Write letters of support to organizations facing xenophobia and racism in the face of COVID-19.
  • Support efforts to track, prevent, treat, and cure COVID-19 by joining projects sponsored through the OpenCOVID19 Initiative

  • Integrate critical reflection. There is a lot going on these days; help your students process it in connection to your course material. Reach out to RISE for suggestions about creating reflections.
  • Have students journal or write an essay as to what they want their world to look like. An idea for a prompt: “The pandemic has forced the world to stop and take a look at our status quo. What’s working? What isn’t working? If you could imagine your ideal world what would that look like?” Expand it into poetry writing, diorama, artwork, haiku, music, TikTok videos, Instagram posts, etc. (idea provided by Citizen University)
  • Connect content to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and have students think through actions they can take to help meet at least one goal
  • Ask students to make a wish for the U.S. through the humanities and civics organization, Made By Us.
  • Invite students to join the #WeavingCommunity, a platform that asks people to participate and share three ways to Weave: 1. What are you experiencing now? 2. What are you doing for yourself and others? 3. What’s the life we want?
  • Conduct interviews with often unappreciated or unseen Bellevue College staff members (e.g. grounds crew, food service, custodial staff, librarians, IT specialists, etc.) and reflect on their importance to the college community.
  • Combine Drawdown with a carbon footprint calculator and have students think through actions they can take to address climate change.
  • Ask students to utilize the Slavery Footprint calculator to then identify actions they and their communities can take to reduce their human rights impact.
  • Reach out to the RISE Learning Institute for support on creating reflections that help students think deeply about certain topics.

  • Have students engage with Hoaxy to understand how certain topics spread through social media (and use the data for projects), and learn how to identify social media trolls.
  • Utilize the RedBlue Dictionary to find definitions and guiding questions for a multitude of topics – without the political and cultural biases often put on them. You can go to AllSides for information about bias, media, and fact-checking.
  • Ask students to read two Op-Eds from reputable sources for every topic you discuss, and then have them reflect on the importance of different viewpoints.

  • Ask students to research ballot issues and explore various perspectives about them.
  • Have students attend candidate forums and then reflect on the different ways in which shared values appear in policy proposals.
  • Create a class strategy for voter and/or Census engagement. RISE has lots of resources about both civic issues to share.
  • Use Census 2020 as a foundation for discussion and class assignments, for example Ethnographic Research or Data Analysis.
  • Have students review the proposed redistricting maps or even create their own, and then connect the proposals to diversity, demographics, and politics.
  • Require your students to attend at least one of the four online panel discussions in October as a part of Bellevue College’s My Power. My Impact. My Vote 2020.
  • Encourage communities to participate in Census 2020.

For Those Who Still Want to Volunteer:

Some of your students may feel the urge to volunteer in the community during Fall. While we emphasize the importance of safety and social distancing, we cannot stop students from engaging with their own communities. Here are a few things they (and you) can do:

Clip art of a pull wagon loaded with different food
  • Help deliver groceries and medicines to vulnerable people through mutual aid: A coordinating body is supporting people who are in risk of going out, and they can always use drivers to deliver food, medicine, and other needs to front doors. This is the volunteer form.
  • Buy Real Change: Most Real Change vendors rely on the $2 newspaper purchase to sustain an income, and are now in dire need as foot traffic has decreased. If you pass by a vendor near your grocery store, consider buying.
  • Donate money to organizations that support those affected by COVID-19, fight for social justice and anti-Blackness, lift up the International District, etc. Reach out to RISE for suggestions.
  • Help fight social isolation: Consider joining something like QuarantineChat, a free service that allows you to talk with people quarantined around the world.
  • Learn more about local agencies through the BC in the Community portal, which lists over 150 local non-profit and government agencies. Many of them have posted virtual and in-person volunteer opportunities.
  • Use your craft skills to make chew toys for dogs in shelters, bedrolls for people experiencing homelessness, and more.
  • Most local food banks and pantries are open (using proper protocol) and are still looking for on-site volunteers. Here are some; check their websites for updated information:
    • FareStart (Central Seattle) – May not be accepting new volunteers at this time, but check as this could have changed
    • Food Lifeline (South Park) – Accepting volunteers for support in the food distribution warehouse; all volunteering scheduled 2+ weeks in advance
    • Hopelink (Eastside) – Strong need for volunteers in Bellevue location, as well as in Kirkland and Redmond locations
    • Open Kitchen (Redmond) – Could use 1 volunteer on Wednesday evenings, but can manage without
    • OSL (Seattle) – Can use volunteers every day for preparing meals and serving them throughout the city
    • Transform Burien (Burien) – Can use volunteers WF 11:30-2:30 and Su 3-5 to stock food and sort supplies
    • Tukwila Pantry Food Bank (Tukwila) – Limiting to 4-6 volunteers per day, but can use 2-3 students starting at 9am TThSa

Last Updated November 1, 2021