Mission: Citizen in the News
They may not have been old enough to vote, but that didn’t stop six Lincoln High School students from helping others earn their right to pick our political leaders. Inspired by their rigorous study of the US Constitution for a national civics competition, the students formed Mission: Citizen in 2009 to help immigrants pass their naturalization tests and become American citizens. Since then, dozens of Lincoln students have taught free eight-week courses to about 60 immigrants. Some, like Chan Chanthakoun, an immigrant from Laos, passed on the first try. Others, like Beatrice, a recent class attendee from Rwanda, proved teachers themselves. Beatrice struggled with the concept of political free speech, which Mission: Citizen cofounder Louis Wheatley says taught the Lincoln students not to take the rights afforded to Americans for granted. This summer Mission: Citizen garnered grant money from Community 101/PGE Foundation to expand the program and help even more immigrants … and students. “Their stories help push us to help them achieve a better life,” says Wheatley, now a sophomore majoring in history and romance languages at Dartmouth. “We’re thrilled and honored to be part of that journey.”
If you'd just spent months studying the birth of democracy and understood amendments, vetoes and the separation of powers, you'd pass your civics tests and count the days till summer, right?
Not six Lincoln High School students who met through the school's U.S. Constitution team. They decided their training was just a preamble to the real world. They wanted to apply their knowledge to serve the community.
Most United States citizens didn’t have to take a test to earn this status: Citizenship was granted simply because of birthright.
But every year, hundreds of thousands of people take the naturalization test, during which they have to orally answer 10 questions from a list of 100.
Applicants don’t get to choose the questions, and they’re not multiple choice. The questions can range from “What is one power of the federal government?” to “What did Susan B. Anthony do?” to “What are two Cabinet-level positions?” So, it should be obvious why this might not be a test many could pass without studying.
Tualatin Public Library, 18878 S.W. Martinazzi Ave., is offering free classes to people preparing to become citizens of the United States. The course materials and teachers are provided by Mission: Citizen, a nonprofit organization run by students and founded by alumni of Lincoln High School's Constitution Team.
A group of high schoolers sits around discussing bureaucracy, naturalization, intercultural understanding and public policy. And they’re not talking about these topics the way you might expect from teenagers, with words that have clearly been reiterated from their teachers and parents. Their words are thoughtful and complex, and utterly surprising in the very best way.