Approximately 70 percent of high school seniors say that they don’t align with a political party. For Shreya Joshi, this meant an opportunity to get her peers involved in civic engagement.
As a rising high school sophomore, Shreya — who is now a high school senior — created a series of five workshops to begin teaching students about local politics.
Now, she’s the founder and executive director of Project TEAL, a “student-led movement to revitalize democracy.”
Project TEAL — which stands for Tolerance, Engagement, Action, and Learning — was first motivated by the political polarization Shreya noticed around her.
“Twitter feuds, name-calling, just a general unwillingness to listen to the other side of the political aisle has become an everyday normality,” she told Good Good Good. “We rarely take time to have a conversation with someone on the other side of the aisle or someone who might not have the same opinion as them.”
As a young person who felt disheartened by these noticeable polarizations, Shreya wanted to make a change and encourage people not to fear political conversations.
She first started within her community by facilitating and creating curriculum for civic engagement workshops. Disheartened that her high school wasn’t encouraging its students to be politically involved, Shreya created these workshops “in the hopes of actually teaching younger students how to be politically engaged.”
The in-person workshops first began as simple introductions into U.S. politics: how to vote, how to mobilize a group of people, and how to fundraise.
But it was during the COVID-19 pandemic that Project TEAL really began taking off. Shreya spent her time in quarantine planning and organizing efforts to launch Project TEAL as a national initiative. In the midst of a global pandemic, Project TEAL did exactly that.
They’ve posted a comprehensive workshop curriculum online and lobbied for an all-inclusive bill that would fortify American Civics education in the U.S. They have established Project TEAL chapters in seven U.S. states. Project TEAL also hosts a podcast, Teal Talks, which focuses on political engagement efforts from people and organizations across the world.
As a young person living in today’s America, Shreya finds her identity to be her driving force for Project TEAL. “If you think about it, we’re actually the first generation to witness something like this,” she said.
“I don’t think any generation that has come before us experienced widespread polarization and had such an underemphasis of civic education in schools.”
With the tools and resources to change both local and national opinions about civic engagement, Shreya has felt several moments of pride in the past two years — her biggest taking place in July of 2021.
“On July 9th, we organized this lobby day and met with eight congressional offices and actually advocated for this very important act,” she said.
“It proved to me that young people aren’t apathetic, it’s more so that we aren’t given the necessary resources and outlets to express our political passions.”
The lobbying efforts took place in five U.S. states, organized 20 youth lobbyist cohorts, and gained interest and support from all congressional offices.
Reflecting on her two years with Project TEAL, Shreya hopes to remind young people like her of the power of community organizing.
“The number one thing I’ve learned from working in this field and working at Project TEAL is that nothing great is accomplished alone. You need a team of people with you and working alongside you in order to accomplish something great.”
While Shreya plans on attending college next year, she hopes to stay connected with her work and community at Project TEAL. She encourages high school students across the world to get involved with Project TEAL and make a positive impact on their community’s civic engagement efforts.
Project TEAL is currently looking for group leaders for 43 U.S. states — the application for which is open. You can also apply to be a co-director of campaigns, curriculum developer, or school district lead.
Young people are continuing to use their resources to make progressive change within their community.
You can get involved with Project TEAL or invite them to a school in your community by visiting their website or contacting them.