April 05, 2020

SAD 63 to focus on civics education

HOLDEN – SAD 63 wants pupils to become more knowledgeable about the democratic process.

Schools in Holden, Eddington and Clifton have embarked upon a new citizenship education pilot project that seeks to strengthen the focus on current events, ethics and service learning, among other things, Gary Gonyar, principal of Holbrook School in Holden, said last week.

“What we’re looking to do is to increase students’ awareness about government, the history of our country, and democracy in general,” he said.

Another goal is to involve more pupils in the educational decisions made by the district, he said.

“We want to give them more of a voice,” he said.

The new project is supported by the Maine Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Institute for Global Ethics and the Mitchell Institute’s Great Maine Schools Project. Also involved is KIDS Consortium, a Lewiston-based organization that works with schools on service learning projects in which students address real challenges faced by their communities.

Gonyar said the district already has taken a step forward in the civics education initiative by inviting two middle school pupils to serve as nonvoting members of the SAD 63 board of directors. Two other pupils will serve on the district’s technology committee.

SAD 22 in Hampden also recognized the vital role that students can play on school boards. Last summer, Hampden Academy junior Anjelica Davenport, 16, joined the board as a nonvoting student representative.

Looking to obtain information about how school districts can create “more systematic approach to civics,” Gonyar said he and three Holbrook teachers recently attended a conference organized by the Maine Task Force on Citizenship Education.

SAD 63 was one of 10 districts in the state invited to attend the Phippsburg gathering, according to the principal who was accompanied by teachers Michele Archambault, Wendy Briggs and Kate Kennedy.

The district was asked to participate because of its experience in service learning, Gonyar said.

“That’s what really got people interested in our district as a pilot site,” he said. “We already have a strong tie-n with the community and service learning.”

The first step is to establish a civics learning steering committee with teachers, administrators, students and community residents, he said.

Committee members will look at civics education classes and initiatives already in place, “and then we’ll come up with a plan on how we can improve that,” he said. Any curriculum changes would begin next September.

Gonyar said he envisions classroom discussions about the civil rights movement, space exploration and the Cold War.

While younger pupils could discuss what they know about their communities, the older ones could examine how the U.S. democratic structure compares with governments in ancient civilizations, as well as how youngsters could play more of a role in educational decision making.

“Students need to know more about how to be active, informed and involved citizens,” Gonyar said.

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