Teaching Civically Minded Students
Katie Joyce, Social Studies Teacher

This year, the 11th-grade social studies requirement at Forest Ridge underwent a name change from “US Government and Politics” to “Civics.” One goal of this name change is to illustrate how our school meets Washington State high school graduation requirements. Starting in the 2020-2021 school year, all Washington high schools must enroll students in a one-semester, stand-alone civics class. Another goal was to shift the focus from the government as a thing that happens in Washington D.C. to a process that all citizens can and should engage in!

In my quest to make civics a more meaningful and relevant curriculum for my students, I have implemented the Civic Action Project from the Constitutional Rights Foundation. At the core, the CRF believes that democracy depends on educated and active citizens, and this is what I want to inspire in my classroom. This curriculum focuses on how students can engage with the government at all levels. The capstone is an independent project that asks the students to apply their learning by working to effect policy change in an area of interest to them. I am in the second year of implementing this program, and I am continually inspired by what the students can accomplish!

Student projects are as varied as the students themselves. I have a few students who are working on policies at the school level. They are tackling issues that they see as important on the Forest Ridge campus and learning how to investigate school policy, how to contact decision-makers and how to have their voices heard. Other students are working at the state level, contacting local officials, reading Washington state policy and learning how to effect change at this level. I even have a few students that are trying to get their voices heard in other states to get policies they see beneficial in Washington to be enacted in other places.

By the end of the semester, students have a true sense of how to advocate for issues they feel are important. This project is supplemented by more traditional lessons on the three branches, on economic policy, on civil rights and on the US in the world. However, we always come back to the ways that the students can engage as informed and active citizens. I can’t wait to see the change that happens when these girls are in charge!