A lesson plan to go with “Time to be counted” from the January – February 2010 issue of L.A. Youth. In this article, Ernesto writes about the importance of the census and encourages teens to help their parents fill it out.
By Amanda Riddle, co-managing editor

Grades: 7-12
Subjects: Government, history, language arts, social studies, life skills
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour

• copies of the L.A. Youth article “Time to be counted” (one per student)
• pens and paper
• white board or blackboard

Students will examine how the census helps them and their community.

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a count of everyone living in the United States to learn more about who lives in the country and how the population has changed. The 2010 Census forms will be mailed in March. Teens today probably don’t remember the 2000 Census so it’s important to inform them about what it is and how it helps their communities. The census is required by the Constitution, which calls for a full counting of the population every 10 years to determine how many seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives (which is called apportionment). But it’s now used for much more than that. The federal government uses census data to determine how to distribute $400 billion each year to states and cities. The money is used for many public services that affect teens and their communities, such as schools, hospitals, libraries, emergency services and road improvements. In the last census, the city of Los Angeles was undercounted and lost $206 million, according to the city’s website lacounts2010.org. So when people don’t mail back their questionnaire, less money goes to their community. (More information on how to teach the census in schools is at census.gov/schools.)

Warm-up discussion:
Write a list on the board of some of the community services that are funded based on census data:
Public transportation

Ask your students if they’ve used any of these things and ask them for details and examples. How often? How do these services help them? Have they been frustrated by a lack of services or improvements?

Have your students read Ernesto’s story “Time to be counted” on page 23. After reading the story, as a discussion ask students how the census helps communities.
They may say:
• It provides money for schools, hospitals, libraries, road improvements, sanitation services, job training programs and more.
• The population data determines how many seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.
• Businesses use the data to help decide where to open new stores and what language to advertise to customers in.

Concluding discussion:
Then, ask your students how more money in their community could improve government programs and services that are funded based on census data. They may say to build a new school to alleviate overcrowding, upgrade a hospital to add a much-needed emergency room, repair roads with potholes, add bus routes near their home, extend library hours, etc.

Have students write a persuasive essay about how filling out the census can help their community. Have them imagine themselves as a community activist trying to persuade families to fill out and mail back the census form. Their essays should include an explanation of how census data affects federal funding. Remind them a strong argument is a key strategy to convince someone to agree with their position. They should use examples of services they or their families have used, and explain how those services could be improved with more money.

Extension activity:
Have students mail their essays to a local official, such as the mayor or their U.S. representative. Also, encourage them to enter our essay contest, which asks if they think the census should ask about race. They can win money! Details are on page 25 of the January-February issue.