Civics Education in Schools

While most students receive some form of civics education in schools, Jennie Pettit, the Social Studies Coordinator for the St. Vrain Valley School District, says that it should be considered a crucial part of a students education.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

“To practice and actually engaged in authentic learning in the real word, it is important for our students to engage in civic discourse at an early age. If you don’t teach our students how to engage in these activities in the classroom, it is going to be very difficult to do it in the real world.”


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Pettit told KGNU’s Rossana Longo Better that even the youngest children can learn about civic engagement.

“It is really important to engage our students all the way from kindergarten to high school in civics.  We talk with our younger students about this idea of fearlessness and responsibility, they might not know how to talk in a global scale, but if we talk about their families and community, they are aware. It is important for our students, even at an early age, to learn the skills and get engaged with civics discourse.”

Statistics from the National Center for Education’s 2011-2012 School and Staffing survey, shows that out of more than two million high school students that year, 92.9% were taught by government/civics teachers who didn’t have a major in that subject area. And of those, 78.3% did not have the certification to teach a civics course. Pettit says that in the St. Vrain Valley School District, teachers are much better prepared to teach the subject.

“They have to be certified to teach Civic Education. We also have an on going teacher training and we just held a Civic Education training this past weekend.”

Pettit blogs at the school district’s website on issues pertaining to civics education. Recent posts include guides for teachers on how to use film and other media to spark conversation about urgent topics such us gender discrimination, sexual harassment, immigration issues and environmental challenges.

The school district also holds events to engage students in civics, like Democracy Day, when students spend the day discussing important issues and meeting with city council members.

“At the end they present in front of a group of judges. It is important that students engage not only inside the classrooms but outside and know that they all have a voice. They cannot vote until they are 18 but there are other ways to get engage and use their power.”

Pettit says that the rise in social media use among teens has also impacted how civically engaged they are.

“Social media in many ways has changed the role of activism, and some adults think that social media is not a place for activism but students that are growing up starting with the Millenials and on, they feel there is a place where their voice can be heard, it is interesting.”

For students in immigrant families, civic engagement and civics education has an added level of importance.

“Our immigrant population is not able to register to vote but there are other avenues for their voices to be heard. It doesn’t have to be a protest even, there are so many ways of speaking out about issues that are important to them and that is what we encourage our students”.

Jennie Pettit of the St. Vrain Valley School District and Kyle Addington of the Boulder Valley School District will discuss how the schools are preparing students to be educated participants in the political system to Make Democracy Work for All, on Thursday, February 8th from 5:30 PM to 6:30PM at Baseline Italian Bistro in Lafayette. The event is being organized by the League of Women Voters of Boulder County.

Rossana Longo Better is the KGNU /League of Women Voters Boulder County public policy/media intern.

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