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Mission: Citizen, a student-run group out of Portland, teaches citizenship classes in Tualatin and Beaverton

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Madison Kenney, a junior from Lincoln High School, helps adults with forms during a Mission Citizen class at the Tualatin Library.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.

Mission: Citizen, a group out of Lincoln High School in Portland, provides citizenship classes in the surrounding communities to help eligible immigrants make their way through the naturalization process. Classes are held at the Tualatin Public Library most Mondays from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and will also be held at the Beaverton City Library for the first time beginning Wednesday, Feb. 4 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. For Tualatin’s first January class, a record-breaking 39 students showed up to learn.

“I think it encourages us to be good citizens. We’re coming into adulthood; this will be the first year that I’ll be able to vote in the general election,” said William Leo, 17 and a Mission: Citizen instructor. “Being able to see these people who are striving so hard to become Americans — how can you not vote, how can you not participate in the system — when you see these people who are struggling to get these things that we take for granted?”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Pablo Tellez of Tigard takes a practice quiz during a Mission Citizen class at the Tualatin Library.

Becoming a United States citizen is not easily accomplished. The naturalization test asks questions that longtime citizens would often have a hard time answering, let alone those who haven’t lived in the states their entire lives. Through the citizenship classes, the Lincoln students (who in this case become the teachers) teach their students all about America through PowerPoint presentations, quizzes and discussions, specifically targeting things that might appear on the test or that they may simply encounter in everyday life.

“Going through a day in your average life, you won’t run into a non-citizen and then have an in-depth conversation with them about their background or what they want to do,” said instructor Jeffrey Lynch, 17. “But as teachers, (we) see first-hand the dedication that these people have. I think this kind of close interaction and lack of disconnect that we have, and being able to actually come face to face with them, is what helps the most.”

Already individuals who are naturally interested in politics and government, the Mission: Citizen members continue to find passion from the students they’re teaching. It’s not just that they want to be citizens for the sole purpose of being citizens — they want to contribute, to do their part and to participate in the American political process.

“There are so many citizens that are citizens by birth, and they don’t understand the same things that immigrants are learning for the test, so it’s really inspiring, actually, to see people being engaged in the society around them,” said Vice President of Business Ciara Taylor, 17. “I see citizenship and voting as sort of the root of our political system. I think gaining citizenship can be a really meaningful process.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Adults participate in a Mission Citizen class at the Tualatin Library.

Mission: Citizen stems from a class at Lincoln High called Constitution Team. Prior to joining the club, the students learned about American politics and government in class, which they all agree provided them with the necessary foundation to lead the citizenship classes, as well as keep Mission: Citizen running. Though the group has some adult advisors, it is essentially entirely student run via a group that consists of Taylor as Vice President of Business, Emma Rhodes as Vice President of Academics, and Theodora Mautz as Executive Director.

Together, the three students prepared last summer for the coming year by revamping the curriculum, brainstorming ways that they could elevate the program, and finding new locations to teach. Of the three, Rhodes is the only junior, and Taylor and Mautz will both graduate in the spring. This constant turnover makes it difficult for the students to gain momentum when they’re running an organization that basically operates as a nonprofit, but they continue to think of new ideas to make it even better.

At the end of the day, they truly believe in what they’re doing.

“There are many people who want to be part of the American experience, but they simply can’t because they just don’t have the resources. So I think we are providing something valuable to average people,” said Leo. “It is really just about helping regular people to become part of this great nation.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: CAITLIN FELDMAN - Students from Lincoln High School in Portland make up Mission: Citizen, a group that teaches citizenship classes at various locations, including the Tualatin Public Library.

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