I know that together we CAN make a difference! I believe that everyone has the power to make the world a better place. When people work together respectfully, great things WILL happen! — Elena, CT’s first Kid Governor
You may aspire to change the world. You may inspire others to change it with you. And you may be the rare leader who understands the value of a clear, actionable plan that anyone can follow.
This election season, Connecticut benefited from seven visionaries who worked hard to share their passions and plans for a better Connecticut with voters across the state.
Their platforms embraced environmental issues (saving bats), school resource issues (more technology in the classroom and student input on school spending) and social issues (preventing kids from joining gangs, putting an end to bullying) and improved health (longer recesses for more exercise).
These civic leaders researched their issues, developed platforms and 3-point plans, and worked with campaign teams to deliver rousing speeches to voters through online videos. The voters watched, noted the issues that resonated with them, and weighed the candidates’ leadership experience and plans.
And then they voted.
And they were all in 5th grade.
At Connecticut’s Old State House, we work to improve our state’s civic health. Using the 2011 Connecticut Civic Health Index report as our road map and the idea of “Choosing to Participate” as our message, our programs explore pathways to civic health.
Our monthly signature program, Conversations at Noon (funded in part by Connecticut Humanities), focuses on key indicators of civic participation in both historic and contemporary contexts (link). The programs demonstrate that voting, going to meetings, and being informed are all signs of civic health as are talking at dinner, helping neighbors, picking up litter and giving to charity. We show that the practice of good citizenship is timeless and simple.
Old State House field trips focus on the people and political systems that have served our state over time. Visiting students learn how people like Prudence Crandall and the Amistad captives used civic skills to effect change in their time. Students also learn about the three branches of government through mock elections, courtroom cases and legislative deliberation.
The lessons are important so we are always on the look-out for fresh paths to civic engagement. This year, when Connecticut educators adopted new Social Studies Frameworks, we saw infinite possibilities for engaging young people in civic life. The Frameworks encourage educators to use local stories to teach about the larger world. They challenge students to question, research and take informed action on issues that they care about–all ingredients for active citizenship!
So this fall, to support the Frameworks, Connecticut’s Old State House invented the Connecticut’s Kid Governor statewide pilot program. With teacher advice, we developed a two-track program: classes could learn about the value, history and process of voting or they could do all of that AND research community issues in order to nominate a Kid Governor candidate from their school.
Teachers learned about the program in mid-September and by Election Week in November, 1,000 Connecticut 5th graders had registered to vote and seven kids from across the state had thrown their hats into the gubernatorial ring.
All of the candidates had serious, well-considered platforms and plans. Elena, who emerged from a talented and competitive field as Connecticut’s first Kid Governor, won with a Campaign for Kindness.
“I wanted to focus on something that could involve everyone, no matter where they live in our great state.”
She told voters: “My platform…will challenge YOU to realize that every day you have the power to make a difference by a simple act of kindness.”
Her 3-point plan?
1. Make the 13th day of every month “Kindness Day” and create a blog where students and schools can share their “awesome” acts of kindness.
2. Work with kids and adults to bring Christian Bucks’ Buddy Benches to school playgrounds in CT – Elena has set a goal for 10 schools in our state to work toward getting Buddy Benches.
3. Listen to students to find out great things happening at their schools so that we can all recognize and celebrate how awesome Connecticut kids are.
We believe that by the end of Elena’s term, Connecticut will be a kinder state.
We believe that all of the participants, having dipped their toes into civic life, will be more alert to the world around them and the myriad, daily opportunities for practicing citizenship and making a difference.
We believe that anyone who watches these campaign videos will feel proud to live in a state that produces such thoughtful, action-oriented, enthusiastic kids and teachers. Whether they ran or voted, Connecticut’s 5th graders have shown us all that active citizenship feels good and yields positive results.
We invite you to rally to Elena’s cause and the causes put forth by her fellow candidates.
And we hope that adults everywhere will ask themselves: if kids can engage in civic life with passion, knowledge and teamwork as their tools, what might the rest of us do?
Watch for the first Connecticut’s Kid Governor Inauguration and the release of the 2016 Connecticut Civic Health Index Report in January. Follow our 5th- grade citizens at CT.KidGovernor.org and mark your calendars for next year’s election!
Sally Whipple is the Executive Director of Connecticut’s Old State House and Chair of Connecticut Humanities. She serves on the Connecticut Civic Health Advisory Group