Count Me In: Engaging Students as Trusted Messengers

Census curricula help youth and families be the authors of their own stories
Blog Post
Oct. 16, 2019

This post is part of New America CA's blog series on how Californians can support a successful 2020 Census. For this installment, our guest author is Frank Pisi, Director of History-Social Science at the Sacramento County Office of Education

My whole career has been focused on helping individuals find their voices and tell their stories. This journey started while I was in college. Having gone to a community college and transferred to a university, I had finally found my focus: I wanted to be a history teacher. In our first week at college, we all had to meet with an academic advisor and discuss our plans for the future. My advisor, the History Department Chair, looked over my transcripts from community college and opened our time together with this: “Well I hope you don’t want to be a teacher; you clearly don’t know anything about history.”

My heart sank. I had finally found what I thought was my calling in life, and with one simple look at some data—which didn’t accurately reflect what I knew—my advisor thought she knew my story. In an instant, my voice was gone. From that day on, I made it my life’s objective to help people tell their stories, and to educate others to look far beyond what they think they know about something to find the real story.

So, what does this have to do with the Census? A lot. When we don’t stand up to be counted, both literally and figuratively, we give someone else the power to tell our story. And the 2020 Census is exactly that: an opportunity for all of us to stand up, be counted and tell our stories. From funding for federal programs to new infrastructure to who represents us in Congress, data from the 2020 Census will shape our lives for at least a decade to come.

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California’s Government Operations Agency (GovOps) works with partners across the state to develop different approaches to raise awareness about the Census and call individuals to action. One is the Count Me In! 2020 Census Project. With support from GovOps, The Sacramento County Office of Education and the Los Angeles County Office of Education have developed curriculum modules designed to teach students about the US Census and get them excited to advocate for a complete count in 2020.

So why enlist students in the census effort? To answer this, another quick anecdote. Like many second-generation Americans, my wife often served as a translator for her parents. From an early age, she helped them navigate the often confusing and cumbersome bureaucracies of life in the US. With this obligation, my wife was regularly the “trusted messenger” when it came to information about school and other civic endeavors.

Without trusted messengers, who can help demystify processes and give a personal face to bureaucracy, the ability to tell your story is much more difficult. We want students and educators to become trusted messengers for the 2020 Census, equipping them with an understanding of how the Census works, what Census data are used for, the importance of a complete count, and what’s at stake if there isn’t a complete count.

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The Count Me In! 2020 Census Project uses 18 inquiry modules, all developed by teachers for use in the classroom. Instead of creating stand-alone modules on the Census, they utilize the Census in the normal course of study, helping students come to the conclusion that the US Census is an important part of our democracy and that participating in it every 10 years is a vital civic duty.

The curricula are divided between historical study of the Census and several Take Action Now! modules where students learn about the census itself and create awareness and call to action campaigns. We’ve also developed a guide to help students and others generate and fine-tune their campaigns. This Tell Your Story! Guide is intended to be a simple, step by step guide with important questions and graphic organizers to help individuals identify their audience, refine their message, determine their hook or angle, and determine the best way to get their message across.

All Count Me In! resources are free for download and use by teachers, parents, students and others. You can find them at