Philanthropy Roundtable believes a robust civics education is essential to promoting and preserving good citizenship. The Roundtable supports organizations that work to inform citizens, protect democracy and create a safe, enduring society.
A proper knowledge of civics is critical to nurturing good citizens and preserving America’s republic. While schools traditionally incorporate civics education as part of their curriculum, limited classroom hours and resources make it challenging to deepen knowledge of concepts, cultivate strong civics identities and inspire lifelong civics engagement.
Since 2014, the Georgia Center for Civics Engagement has been working to help fill gaps in civics education among the state’s young people through programs that promote self-esteem, leadership skills and a sense of responsibility for oneself and the greater community. The success and popularity of GCCE’s programs — which include mock elections, Model United Nations and meetings with state legislators — has inspired other states to replicate GCCE’s model. Kansas and Arkansas are working with GCCE’s CEO, Dr. Randell Trammell, and hope to bring GCCE’s success to their states.
The Roundtable recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Trammell to discuss the organization’s innovative approach to engaging students in civic education and his vision for equipping them with the skills required to be informed and active citizens.
What inspired you to create the Georgia Center for Civic Engagement?
Before I created the Georgia Center for Civic Engagement, I knew firsthand the power of a civic education program, but had little more than anecdotal evidence to make my case. Then, while completing research for my dissertation, I discovered a deep void of resources in Georgia for civic education that inspired me to take action. I met with the state superintendent of schools and asked what was needed. I was told our teachers needed resources and our students needed opportunities. On that day, the idea for the Georgia Center for Civic Engagement was born, with the mission to educate and equip students to become informed and active citizens.
Please explain the Center’s approach to creating civics programs to engage students and help train teachers.
Our approach is completely centered on achieving positive civic outcomes for students – and we utilize a two-fold method of accomplishing it. First, we use the train-the-trainer approach in providing quality professional development and curricular resources that are aligned with the state educational standards to enhance quality instruction. Secondly, we provide students with opportunities to simulate governmental proceedings such as our model legislature, our model United Nations and our local government, Civic Youth Day.
Our foundational philosophy is if a student’s civic knowledge is increased, then also is his or her sense of civic identity and dispositions. Over the long-term, students who are exposed to a civic education curriculum are more likely to be engaged citizens.
Can your models be scaled in different states?
The beauty of the Center for Civic Engagement model is its scalability in different states. In fact, several states have already reached out to us because of the success we’ve experienced in Georgia. A few examples of those successes include:
- Our first-ever student mock election in 2020 where more than 250,000 Georgia students in grades K-12 participated, with ballots based on their school’s district, that literally matched the candidates from state legislator all the way up to president of the United States.
- Our ability to partner with the Georgia Department of Education to offer co-curricular solutions to school districts that include both professional development for educators and experiential learning opportunities for students.
- Our Government and Public Administration high school pathway launching in more than 100 schools in fall 2022, which is a three-year curriculum teaching students the concepts of local, state and federal government through both a practical and career-oriented look. This partnership with the Georgia Department of Education, Georgia Municipal Association, Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and our organization is the first in the nation to offer both technical and academic instruction as embedded credit in each of the courses – and we are in the process of developing industry certifications.
The Georgia model itself aligns perfectly with any state’s educational standards as it seeks to provide opportunities for students to put into practice what they learn and for educators to sharpen their skills with additional tools and support. Let me be clear, the goal is not to recreate a “Georgia” program elsewhere, but rather to allow for our programming to be specific to a state’s individual needs. While every state has a legislative, judicial and executive branch, the expression of this can be vastly different from one state to another. Thus, any attempt to teach it must be authentic and individualized.
With many Georgia state government officials nearing retirement, what can be done to help fill those positions with civics-minded employees?
The “silver tsunami” of forthcoming retirements is a critical civic infrastructure issue not only in Georgia, but across the nation. In partnership with the Georgia Department of Education, Association of County Commissioners, Georgia Municipal Association and other key groups, we have developed a “Pipeline to Public Service” to educate students about how and why they should consider pursuing a career in government and public administration. After we convened our group of partners, one of the representatives from the Municipal Association remarked they have always wanted to be at the table for conversations like these, but didn’t know where to start. Because of these efforts, in the fall of 2022 we anticipate hundreds of students will be offered an opportunity to embark upon this pathway – and we will be well on our way to engaging thousands of students who can make a difference by choosing a career in public service.
How can those interested in learning more about your work go about doing so?
We would love the opportunity to speak with anyone interested in learning more about the mission of educating and equipping students to become informed and active citizens — whether in Georgia or other states. Those interested can email Dr. Trammel at firstname.lastname@example.org.