As we continue to move forward with our strategic vision that earmarks citizenship as one of its center points, it is helpful to reflect on how and what we currently do to embed citizenship in our teaching and learning. It goes without saying that the core values of our Character Tree – courage, honor, compassion, respect, responsibility, dedication, and spirit – help students develop as good people – forerunners to being good citizens of a community. Recently, I came across an article published by the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) which addressed civics, traditionally a course taught in public high schools. The article focused on a pedagogy dedicated to helping under-served populations become more civic-minded through a mentor program that embraces civics in action.

Though the article does not specifically focus on independent education, it does share ideas about the teaching of civics that are applicable to all educational institutions. I found strong parallels to its content and what our vision may bring to Ravenscroft as it unfolds. However, I also found connections to things we currently do, specifically with our service learning program and our eighth-grade capstone project, Ravens in Action.

For those unfamiliar with this project, our eighth grade students choose from a broad list of topics addressing current needs in society – local, national, and global. They complete research on a topic of interest to them; work collaboratively with others to design a creative way to share their research; and present in multiple formats, using spoken, written, and digital means. The excerpt below, from “Civics in Action Motivates Students” by Scott Warren and Daniel Millenson, shows the importance and relevance of action-oriented civics education.

“Chief executive officers, politicians, and think tanks have called for schools to teach 21st century skills, a phrase that encompasses everything from critical thinking to persuasive communication to group collaboration…. By teaching citizenship through an ‘action civics’ pedagogy, educators not only impart such skills, but also help students make them relevant by applying them to issues they care about.

Doing civics involves precisely the same set of skills demanded by today’s knowledge economy. Data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement indicates that effective civic engagement can lead to improved academic achievement. In a recent study, when community service was performed as a class requirement, students saw academic performance in reading rise 6.7 percent and history 3.3 percent (Dávila & Mora, 2007). Civic engagement in high school provides fuel for future educational attainment, significantly increasing college graduation odds, even when controlling for socioeconomic and demographic factors. By becoming engaged in their communities, students grow to understand the relevance of their education, which increases their academic motivation (Dávila & Mora, 2007).

Like the hook of any good lesson, action civics establishes and builds on relevance to students’ lives. And by giving students the experience applying 21st century skills to bring about change in their own lives and communities, action civics helps schools fulfill both their academic and civic missions.”

In the next chapter of Ravenscroft’s journey, we seek to create distinctive programs that distinguish our school from other independent institutions. I believe that we have been doing so in many ways in Middle School. Certainly our work with service learning and projects such as Ravens in Action shows we are leading the way, truly engaging in “action civics” while embracing our tagline of learning, leading, and serving.

ASCD Express: Colleges, Careers, Citizenship (1204060). April 12, 2012.

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