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Civics Education for Connecticut Students

By: Peter Moran, Project Director

What does civics mean to a 7 year-old? The answer might look a lot like what we call social emotional learning today: listening to one another, keeping our emotions in check, and thinking about how our decisions affect one another. An adult’s civic life includes activities like voting or running for public office. It may also mean engaging with long-standing institutions like our legal courts and legislatures. But in a democratic republic these activities and institutions rely on a foundation of critical thinking and reasonable discussion. Civics education has been on the decline in the USA, while polarization and partisanship rises. In response, the U.S. Department of Education has issued a $1 million grant to kick-start the Civics Education Project for Connecticut Students in the 2023-2024 school year. 

This grant is administered through the Connecticut Museum of Culture and History, but the project comprises an unprecedented partnership of 5 museums across the state: 

On field trips to each of these institutions, Connecticut students grades K-5 encounter interactive, inquiry based programs that engage with the ideas behind civics: community, collaboration, discussion and collective-decision making. Instead of listening to lectures, students are invited to engage directly in civic activities. They experience firsthand the importance of an individual vote and the impact of collective decision-making.

U.S. Department of Education funding has lowered the cost of these field trips to just $2 per student. Participating schools are also able access funding to cover the rising costs of transportation: up to $350 per school bus. Outreach programs (in-classroom interactive programs run by museum educators) are reduced to just $50 per program.  

This multi-pronged funding and diverse partnership of institutions represents an overall push to improve civics education across the state. In all districts, at all schools, easier access to memorable and engaging programs helps build a foundation of elementary civics knowledge. As students grow up, these early experiences might prove the deciding factor in a new generation of engaged, active civic-minded adults. 

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