The Georgia Civic Awareness Program for Students (GCAPS) was developed to address the need for increased civic involvement and awareness among Georgia’s youth. The objective is simple: to educate young citizens about the importance of being actively involved in their local government environment and the opportunities available in the public sector. GCAPS provides civic education by exposing high school students to the role that local government plays and by introducing them to the leaders who make local governments work. Youth are offered the opportunity to gain knowledge about their local governments through hands-on learning activities and experience the decision-making process first-hand.
Not only do youth become engaged in their communities and become better informed citizens, they also learn valuable leadership skills and have the opportunity to create and implement civic awareness projects.
Each of Georgia’s 159 counties is unique, which is why the Association County Commissioners of Georgia Civic Affairs Foundation has created a flexible program that can be easily modified to accommodate the demographic, geographic, socioeconomic and financial diversity of the county offering a GCAPS program. To date, various counties have sponsored the program. Youth ranging in age from 15 to 18 have engaged in government related activities in each of the counties. Pilot programs have "graduated" more than 200 students. Post-program evaluations show that 100% of the students agreed that their experience was rewarding and that they had a clear understanding of the role local and state government play.
The Program Manager and the Advisory Committee assemble a selection committee. This committee is responsible for taking applications and selecting students to serve as delegates. Committee members are knowledgeable about the program, the needs of the community in terms of civic education, and the capabilities of the students who apply.
Interested high school students who either live in the county or go to school in the county are asked to submit an application that includes essay questions. Homeschooled students are also encouraged to participate and have in the past.
Once the selection committee has chosen the GCAPS participants, the students spend a year in the program receiving pertinent leadership training and learning first-hand about their local government.
An emphasis is placed on three training components. The first component is a lesson on the GCAPS mission, a history of the program and its goals. The next component of the program is a combination of leadership training and teambuilding. The final component is civic education; this is the component on which students spend the most time and which is most critical to accomplishing the goals of GCAPS.
The delegates meet on a regular basis and participate in hands-on activities that expose them to different aspects of government. Students also are encouraged to implement civic education projects in their community.
After completing a year in the program, GCAPS participants complete a program survey and are recognized in an informal "graduation" ceremony.