A student standing in front of Arkport CSD with her hand on her hip and a blue tee shirt that says "Dissent is patriotic"
Arkport senior Hannah Reynolds joined a diverse group of high school students from across the United States in a week-long learning experience hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) virtually hosted its annual Summer Advocacy Institute Program for rising junior and senior high school students.

There, Arkport High School senior Hannah Reynolds joined almost 1,000 students from every state in the country for the opportunity to receive first-hand experience from lawyers, lobbyists, community activists and other experts dedicated to defending constitutional rights.

Hannah said she applied for the program because she’s always had an interest in helping people and learning about history and civil rights. 

 “While I was looking into the work the ACLU does, I came across the institute and figured it would be a perfect opportunity to expand my knowledge of careers in social justice and the history of systems that work to help or hurt people in our country,” she said. “I wrote an essay explaining the impacts education can have on kids across the world. In order to create a better future for everyone, we need to not only provide equal opportunity to education, but to create an education system based on the right principles and ideals. With that, I finished my essay by writing about a few people who have inspired me, including my amazing history teacher Ms. Walker.”

Through the program, Hannah and other student participants learned directly from lawyers, lobbyists, community activists and other experts working to defend the civil rights and civil liberties critical to a free and open society. In classroom sessions, lectures, and policy debates, students will explore the complex nature of issue advocacy, legal strategy and real world political decision making in Washington, D.C.

The program featured:

  • Electives covering the ACLU’s wide array of issue areas, taught by communications experts, lawyers, policy advocates, and other professional organizing staff from the ACLU and partner organizations;
  • Daily seminars in small groups to explore social justice and civil liberties issues;
  • Life-long connections and support structures with other young activists from across the country; and
  • Information about issues-based campaigning and how to engage with policy-makers.

Although the program is typically held in Washington, D.C., the staff from ACLU worked hard to create an online program that was accessible to all the participants, regardless of their time zone.

Each day at 1 p.m. we logged on to ‘homeroom’ with two ACLU staff workers and eight other students with the same birthday month. We discussed things we learned from the classes and got to know each other. In the afternoon, we attended classes on different injustices and how to organize and combat these issues. In the evening, we were given time to meet new people who shared similar backgrounds and interests. Finally, each day ended with either a movie, talent show, or Q&A.”

Hannah said that while the information she learned through the classes and group calls inspired her to educate herself and speak more about issues that matter to her, what impacted her most what the people she met through the institute.

“I was able to connect with people all across the country and it was so interesting to see how different we all are, yet we all ended up wanting to pursue activism,” she said. “It was so fun to challenge each other in our classes while all still being able to make jokes with one another at the end of the day.”

Hannah said she plans on sharing the information she’s learned with friends, family and teachers and is motivated to learn more on her own.

“I left the program with a list of recommended movies, shows, books, articles and podcasts that I plan on learning from,” she said. “My friends from my homeroom and I all plan to watch a movie together once a week and read books at the same time to talk about it.”