Activities can range from voting to volunteering and public speaking
Introducing civic engagement opportunities to students at all ages can help ensure they become active and engaged members of their communities upon graduation.
Civic engagement is about individuals sharing their skills and knowledge through actions intended to improve communities, states, nations, the world and themselves. It is something that students can learn through a variety of hands-on activities.
“It can be so many different things,” Nathan McAlister said about civic engagement. “If you are civically engaged, you are looking at improving the civic vitality of your community. It’s the betterment of a community through the people who live there. We have this notion that civic engagement is simply a voter registration drive, but it can be so much more.”
McAlister, a humanities program manager for the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), said it also can involve students being members of civic and community organizations, public speaking, petitioning, mentoring, assisting a neighbor or other volunteering activities that lead to strong communities.
The Kansas State Board of Education includes civic engagement in its outcomes established around the vision for education in Kansas – Kansas leads the world in the success of each student. The State Board also uses the phrase in defining a successful Kansas high school graduate - someone who has the academic preparation, cognitive preparation, technical skills, employability skills and civic engagement to be successful in postsecondary education, in the attainment of an industry-recognized certification or in the workforce, without the need for remediation.
Throughout the month of December, KSDE will be sharing stories about civic engagement, including information about the Civic Advocacy Network (CAN), which recognizes schools that actively involve students in civic engagement opportunities.
Civic engagement just isn’t learned in the classroom by reading text or listening to a lecture. It is important for students to learn about civic engagement by being civically engaged, said Jessica Dorsey, assistant director of KSDE’s Teacher Licensure and Accreditation (TLA) team and executive director of the Kansas Volunteer Commission.
“Our democracy depends on citizen participation,” she said. “In order for us to have a vibrant, healthy state, individuals must vote in elections, volunteer and advocate for issues that are important to them, serve on local boards and commissions and look for opportunities to engage.”
Teachers and parents can play an important role in helping students become civically engaged adults, Dorsey and McAlister said.
“Teachers have to see their students as partners in the learning process,” McAlister said. “We have to be willing to listen to what the students are saying – hear their ideas and thoughts on what they feel needs to be changed. Those are great opportunities to evaluate the merits of the idea and the logistics involved. Look at current events in the headlines – use those as teaching opportunities.”
“Civic engagement can be the tool by which lessons are taught,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a separate part of the curriculum. Incorporating service learning and volunteerism into lesson plans will enable students to serve in their community, learn to reflect on their experiences and develop critical-thinking skills.”
Parents should partner with teachers and students, too, McAlister said.
“They are a great resource,” he said. “In a lot of ways, parents are in the trenches - so to speak - working and seeing these needs. Parents need to have that same communication (as teachers) – a free flow of ideas needs to be at the home. It needs to be in the classroom. It needs to be in the building.”
Children model the behaviors of their parents, Dorsey said.
“If they see their parents volunteering in the community, voting, serving in local civic and community organizations, then they will grow up with that as an expectation for themselves,” she said. “It is much easier to maintain a habit than to start a new one.”
And it is a great idea to start teaching children at a young age, Dorsey added. Starting early can form a habit of civic engagement that will last a lifetime.
“Young children can develop and build their skills around self-efficacy (confidence that one’s actions can make a difference); assertiveness (willingness to stand up for themselves and others); and empathy (caring for other people),” she said.
Even students in pre-kindergarten and elementary school can learn about being civically engaged. The goal should be for students to be civically engaged before they leave school, not simply to possess the skills and knowledge to be civically engaged.
“if you’re not engaging elementary students in civic activities, then you’re starting too late,” McAlister said. “I think we underestimate what elementary school students can accomplish. They have that desire to want to help out. They can do it.”
Through the Kansas State Department of Education’s Civic Advocacy Network (CAN), more than 40 Kansas schools during the past four years have been recognized for the civic engagement opportunities they offer students.
Civic engagement is an important part of the Kansas State Board of Education’s vision – Kansas leads the world in the success of each student. Civic engagement also is found in the State Board’s definition of a successful Kansas high school graduate: A successful Kansas high school graduate has the academic preparation, cognitive preparation, technical skills, employability skills and civic engagement to be successful in postsecondary education, in the attainment of an industry-recognized certification or in the workforce, without the need for remediation.
The Kansas History, Government and Social Studies standards’ mission statement asks schools to prepare students to be “informed, thoughtful, engaged citizens.” In order for this to take place, students need to have regular opportunities to engage in civic learning – inside and outside of the classroom.
The Kansas State Department of Education’s CAN program was developed to recognize schools that actively involve students in civic engagement opportunities, said Jessica Dorsey, assistant director of KSDE’s Teacher Licensure and Accreditation (TLA) team and executive director of the Kansas Volunteer Commission. The program also allows KSDE to collect exemplary practices to share with schools across the state.
“The ultimate goal of the Civic Advocacy Network is to encourage civic engagement participation in all of our pre-K through 12 schools,” Dorsey said.
Schools across the state are giving students civic engagement opportunities through a variety of ways – everything from having structured debates in the classroom to planning Veterans Day celebrations, organizing blood drives and offering community clean-up days. Some districts even allow students to serve as ex officio members of the local school board so there is student voice representation.
Every school year, KSDE invites schools to apply for CAN awards. Schools that meet the award criteria receive one of two designations – School of Excellence or School of Promising Practice.
The first awards were presented to schools during a special ceremony on Constitution Day, Sept. 17, 2018, in Topeka. Eight schools received School of Excellence awards and four received Promising Practice awards.
CAN applicants must show student engagement around the “Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning.” These are:
Each award applicant also has to submit evidence that one or more of the following takes place around the six practices:
Schools that apply for the CAN award but aren’t named a School of Excellence have the opportunity to be named a School of Promising Practice. This award is given to schools that have a particularly innovative, effective or unique program that shows potential for impacting student engagement.
“The application will open in January 2022,” Dorsey said about the upcoming application process. “There will also be a technical assistance call scheduled.
Schools also can reach out to Dorsey at email@example.com to request individual training and support on CAN.
For more information on civic engagement and CAN, visit https://www.ksde.org/Agency/Division-of-Learning-Services/Career-Standards-and-Assessment-Services/Content-Area-A-E/Civic-Engagement.
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