Photo of Emily Drum with two children on each side. Image contains three text boxes: 1. Civics Month; 2. Emily Drum; 3. Educator Spotlight

Emily Drum and Civic Engagement in the Central Valley

Educator Spotlight

Emily Drum taught history, civics, government, and economics at Monache High School in Porterville, a town in the San Joaquin Valley, where she worked to engage students’ voices.1   Passionate about making education relevant and meaningful, Drum emphasized that “When students leave my classroom, they know they can do anything, their voice matters, and they belong.” She recently completed an internship with the California Council on Economic Education, is a fellow at the Facing History and Ourselves project, and is enrolled in the CHSSP and LEADE’s year-long workshop: Civic Engagement, Taking Action, and the State Seal.  Drum plans to engage issues of equity and accessibility through the California State Seal of Civic Engagement, which aims to empower students and teachers to get involved with their communities and to think flexibly about what service might mean to them. In short, Emily Drum is putting her words into action.

The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected Porterville’s minority communities.  A quiet town in the Central Valley with a strong agricultural labor history, 61% of Porterville’s residents are Hispanic, almost 5% are Asian, and .5% are Black.2   The Porterville Unified School District serves a large English-learner population. Furthermore, the median household income is just over $37,000, well below the national average of about $51,000. During the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, students spent long periods outside of language-immersion programs and other practice-based curricula. Unequal access to effective and stable educational technologies laid bare the inequalities in our schools in Porterville and across the nation. 

Increasing access to civic engagement, educational success, and community empowerment is at the heart of the California State Seal of Civic Engagement,3 a statewide program that Drum is planning to bring to her local area by spearheading the planning for it in  the Porterville Unified. Not only does the program encourage students to recognize and amplify the cultural capital and tools they already have, but it functions as an innovative approach to asset-based teaching in the work to “counter deficit approaches which viewed the culture, literacies, and languages of students of color as deficiencies that needed to be overcome.”4   According to the criteria for the Seal established by the CDE, students who earn the state seal are:

  1. Engaged productively in academic work
  2. Demonstrate a competent understanding of United States and California constitutions; functions and governance of local governments; tribal government structures and organizations; the role of the citizen in a constitutional democracy; and democratic principles, concepts, and processes;
  3. Participate in one or more informed civic engagement project(s) that address real-world problems and require students to identify and inquire into civic needs or problems, consider varied responses, take action, and reflect on efforts;
  4. Demonstrate civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions through self-reflection; and
  5. Exhibit character traits that reflect civic-mindedness and a commitment to positively impact the classroom, school, community and/or society.5

 The State Seal programming emphasizes the assets that students bring into the classroom and capitalize on their diverse knowledge and experiences. Drum and her team realized that the programming can work in tandem with resources and programs already in place, which makes the seal’s implementation smoother for students and educators. In particular, Drum and her team are taking advantage of the district’s emphasis on the Pathways program to help students earn the State Seal as they work on requirements for each program. Pathways combines career training and academic teaching with the goal for students “to graduate college and career ready with a greater advantage of post-secondary learning options, whether college, technical, or workplace.”6 Although not all of her students will run for office, the state seal—like the Pathways Program—supports students as they engage in real-life situations and empower students to see themselves as integral parts within the community.

With a solid group of leaders championing the State Seal implementation, Drum and her colleagues hope to adopt the criteria in Spring 2022. This coalition consists of high school department chairs, Civics and Economics teachers, representatives from the City, a member from the Pathways department, and civic and community leaders from Porterville.  In November, the team will host a Zoom meeting to build more community momentum. As they move forward, explained Drum, they will continue to look for support for teachers and students interested in piloting the new civic engagement projects for the seal.

Emily Drum’s role as an Instructional Coach in Porterville highlights the pressing debates and conversations around  “learning loss” and “learning acceleration” during and after the pandemic. Shifting toward the asset-based approach to student learning empowers students teachers to leverage the learning experience that has taken place over the last year. Instead of a year of “learning loss,” asset-based learning acknowledges the learning that took place over the course of the pandemic, and pushes teachers to capitalize on those experiences. While students might be out of practice in some subjects, there are proven pedagogical methods to accelerate learning in a way that can bring them to grade level. You can find support from the California Department of Education HERE.7  


**If you are interested in joining Emily as a fellow in the Civic Engagement, Taking Action, and the State Seal year-long workshop, registration is open til Thursday, October 28!**


  • 1 Emily Drum in conversation with the author, October 7, 2021.
  • 2 Monache High School Information,
  • 3 State Seal of Civic Engagement, California Department of Education,
  • 4Asset-Based Learning, California Department of Education,
  • 5 “State Seal of Civic Engagement Criteria,” from State Seal of Civic Engagement, California Department of Education,
  • 6Porterville Unified School District, “Individual Pathways,” emphasis original
  • 7 Learning Acceleration, California Department of Education,

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