LWV of Falmouth Local Study for 2013-2015
Promoting Good Citizenship in Falmouth Schools
How do Falmouth students experience civics education and learn about civic engagement? What parts do the academic curriculum and experiential learning play in promoting good citizenship? On April 16, 2014, the League of Women Voters of Falmouth presented a public forum that should answer these questions to the satisfaction of Falmouth citizens, but especially of those with children and grandchildren attending Falmouth's public elementary, middle and secondary schools.
Concerned that, nationally, a large percentage of younger Americans (18 to 25 year olds) do not vote, the Local Study Committee of the Falmouth League set about to discover what Falmouth students learn about civic responsibility. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bonnie Gifford and Mark Wilson, Falmouth Curriculum Coordinator, and many other Falmouth educators have given generously of their time to help the League promote local awareness and understanding of their work through this forum.
Marian Lans, History Department Head for grades 7 through 12, spoke about civic education frameworks and civics education embedded in courses. Falmouth High School faculty members Michael Feeney, Joanne Holcomb and Cheryl Milliken spoke about curricular and experiential offerings. Grade One teacher Taryn Dean talked about the programs in which her students participate.
Several former and current Falmouth High School students talked about their own civic education and present a comparative then-and-now view. Tom Moakley, currently a student at Georgetown University, has submitted a video about the importance of participation in government that was shown at the forum.
Town Clerk Michael Palmer and State Representative/ Town Meeting moderator David Vieira also spoke.
At Falmouth High School, courses are designed to help students become knowledgeable and self-fulfilling individuals able to deal with and direct change within our democratic society. To these ends there are the following courses: a two-year American history requirement, a two year AP American history course and an elective on American history from 1960 to the present which will replace this year's Current Events elective. In addition to these, there is a mandatory Senior Project aimed at stretching students' social consciousness.
Civics education also takes place outside the academic curriculum. Students may take active roles in student government, participate in simulations of government bodies and engage in a number of other extra-curricular programs. They can participate in a Model United Nations, where two students recently won awards, the Massachusetts Bar Association's Mock Trial program and Massachusetts Student Government Day. Falmouth High School students also have the opportunity to join the Civic Leadership Project, a group which discusses social problems and undertakes projects to address them.
Falmouth High School also recognizes individual volunteer activities. Students are encouraged to register their volunteer hours with VIPS (Volunteers in Public Schools) which compiles records students can use in applying to college.
Very young children hear stories about people and events that are celebrated at national holidays, thus providing a beginning of their civic identity. From first grade on their identity as American citizens is re-enforced and expanded as they learn that the United States is a nation of immigrants and citizens represent all races and many different ethnicities and religions. The study of geography and time lines of the many different world civilizations gives children an introduction to the larger world and students can begin to see themselves as part of that world.
At the Lawrence and Morse Pond schools, students can participate in forms of student government, and at election time, some schools become polling stations where the example of citizens exercising their fundamental right and responsibility to vote can be seen by our young future voters. Variations on the "town meeting" concept is also alive and well at several of our schools. Modeling adult participation in representative government is a powerful way of learning about the roles of adult citizens.
Service learning activities are an important part of civic education in our schools. These include food and toy collection drives which can introduce children to an appreciation of a greater sense of what constitutes good citizenship. Coastal sweeps or clean-up and analysis of refuse introduce ecology concepts. Water quality studies include observation and measurement. All of these expand children's understanding of the richness and complexity of civic responsibility.