A young adult and a teenager discuss a poem.

Students visit the City of Asylum to learn from Allegheny County Youth Poet Laureate Danielle Obisie-Orlu

From Neighbors to Citizens

Remake Civics is preparing tomorrow’s citizens, one classroom at a time.

Remake Civics is preparing tomorrow’s citizens, one classroom at a time.

The Crafton Elementary fifth-graders worked on their poetry for weeks. In the familiar space of their language arts classroom just east of Pittsburgh, they had begun giving voice to their thoughts about the world – their community, their concerns, their fledgling ideas.

Now, on a chilly April Friday, they had traveled to Pittsburgh’s North Side – a short bus ride and yet a world away – to a place called City of Asylum.

At this nationally recognized nonprofit that offers shelter and support to exiled writers from around the world, these elementary schoolers weren’t simply attending a show or a book reading. They were diving into the world of poetry and civic action with a young woman named Danielle Obisie-Orlu, Allegheny County’s 2021 Youth Poet Laureate.

At first, the eager band of kids was nervous. How often do elementary schoolers get to share their writing with an accomplished poet? But Obisie-Orlu, now a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, made them feel welcome. And the teachers who accompanied them – Renee Gaydos and Don Alexander – had been encouraging them to use their voices in new ways since the start of this semester.

After talking about their poems, the students found the confidence to ask: Can we perform right now? Within minutes, on the City of Asylum stage, their words echoed through the same room where exiled poets and writers share creations.

How had this all come about for elementary students at a tiny public school in a lower-income school district?

This day of poetry was one expression of a project called Remake Civics, designed to fundamentally rethink an often ignored corner of education: civics learning.

Funded by a 2023 Moonshot Grant from Remake Learning, Remake Civics is a multiyear partnership between Carlynton School District (which includes Crafton Elementary) and the LIGHT Education Initiative.


Building relationships between schools and the organizations that exist around them – whether that’s a community library or a regional or national organization like City of Asylum or Rivers of Steel.

“Teachers and community organizations are all doing really great work, but nobody really has the time or capacity to connect with each other in a meaningful way,” says Roman Benty, community partnership coordinator at LIGHT.

Since the launch of Remake Civics earlier this year, Benty and LIGHT’s school partnership coordinator Doug Khorey have worked with teachers in the Carlynton district to change that.

One key, says LIGHT founder Nick Haberman: Remake Civics builds on what a school district is already doing. It asks which individuals are already leading the way and “how can we help them do their jobs more easily, with more joy, in partnership with other people?”

The Remake Civics team also helps teachers from different grades connect for collaborative projects. And to make new initiatives possible, the school district gets funding to cover experiences related to civics learning, like the cost of transportation to an event or a fee for a guest speaker.


Helping students connect with their community and see themselves as people with a meaningful role to play in public life.

“In elementary school, we’re focusing on ‘How do we teach kids to be good neighbors? What’s your story and what’s the story of your family? What’s the story of your community?’” Benty says. “If I understand in elementary school what it means to be a good neighbor and make a friend, then I can understand in middle school what it looks like to support a friend.”

The plan, Benty says, is that “in high school, we want to start taking these kids outside of their own school districts and working with kids from other schools.” That connection with people beyond a school district’s borders is a priority for the Remake Civics team.

A group of high school students wearing hardhats stand inside of an industrial furnace site listening to a tour guide.
High School Students tour the Carrie Blast Furnaces as part of the LIGHT Education Initiative’s Remake Civics Program in partnership with Rivers of Steel | Photo: Ben Filio

“We want this project to really activate the entire community,” Benty says. “The community is the classroom where all of this learning happens. So how can we nurture those environments by creating new relationships between community organizations, local organizations, and families and teachers?”


As they build Remake Civics, the folks at LIGHT are documenting their process to create training resources and a toolkit for the entire Carlynton district to learn from. Then, they can share those resources with other districts.

For Crafton’s Don Alexander, the Remake Civics experience has been thrilling. He describes his day with students at City of Asylum as “truly one of the most magical experiences that I’ve had as a teacher.”

That experience isn’t over: With help from the Remake Civics team, the fifth-graders are planning a public poetry slam at the Carnegie Coffee Company to bring the work to a broader audience – including their parents.

“And that’s that’s the whole thing, right?” Asks Benty. “All of this learning needs to be an opportunity for us all.”

Authored by

A head-and-shoulders portrait of Melissa Rayworth.
Melissa Rayworth

Melissa Rayworth has spent two decades writing about the building blocks of modern life — how we design our homes, raise our children and care for elderly family members, how we interact with pop culture in our marketing-saturated society, and how our culture tackles (and avoids) issues of social justice and the environment.