Officials Seek to Turn State Schools “Red, White and Blue” Starting This Fall

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell have launched what they’re calling the Red, White, and Blue Schools Initiative. The Initiative is a partnership between the State Department of Education and the Office of the Secretary of the State that will reward schools that develop programs that foster strong civic engagement among students. The program is available to all K-12 schools in Connecticut and will begin this fall with the start of the 2016-17 school year.

Each year, a theme will be announced and schools will be encouraged to teach the theme through interdisciplinary activities, whole-school events, extracurricular clubs/activities, student-centered learning and community outreach.state

The theme for the first year will be “The Electoral Process,” since the year will include the presidential election, inauguration of the nation’s next president, and the beginning of the next session of Congress, as well as elections for all of Connecticut’s legislative and U.S. House seats and one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats.

“It is critical that we equip young people with the knowledge and perspective it will take to be informed, active citizens in a global society,” Commissioner Wentzell said. “The Red, White, and Blue Schools Initiative encourages schools to think outside the box about ways to engage students more actively in community and government.”

“A presidential election gives us so many opportunities to learn about democracy. Students can learn how voters are registered and polling locations are set up as well as how the votes are counted. What better time to learn about our democracy than an election year?” Secretary of the State Merrill said.  The Republican and Democratic parties will be selecting their presidential nominees this month, at national conventions held in Cleveland and Philadelphia.logos

Schools that want to participate in the program will have to meet certain criteria to be considered a Red, White, and Blue School. Requirements include integrating lessons about civic engagement into social studies classes and at least two other subjects and holding a whole-school event focused on student engagement, such as a mock election or a student-led candidate forum.

A fact sheet on the new initiative indicates that community outreach will be part of the program, urging that schools “work with local community organizations, business or government entities to increase student knowledge of implications and effects of elections on the community.”

Wentzell, MerrillParticipating schools will be encouraged to take innovative approaches to teaching civics in the classroom and to consider involving extracurricular activities that promote civic and community engagement.

The new initiative was announced at the Timothy Edwards Middle School in South Windsor in June.  The program timeline calls for schools to complete their electoral process projects by January 2017, with the submission deadline for project material in March and school designations and award winners announced in May.  A website for the program is also planned.

PHOTO: State Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill