The virtues of fostering citizenship skills

By Susan Kovalik, Did you know?

The buzz throughout the country regarding the primary elections is a welcome situation. It has been decades since people have been this involved and passionate about voting.

It was exciting to hear that there were more voters in New Hampshire than they had ballots — a good sign. Here in Federal Way, we have our own excitement.

We have two important issues on the upcoming ballot: The Federal Way School District levy and a decision on how the city’s mayor should be selected.

People are talking. All of this has reminded me of my steps to becoming a voter and responsible citizen.

My first political demonstration was at the age of 3. I remember my mother and other mothers with their young children, protesting in front of the war board asking for more meat for children.

This was the time of rationing during World War II; food, gas and other vital materials were all carefully controlled.

We each carried a sign and walked in a continuous circle chanting our message. Two years later, I was going door to door with my mother with a basket of political flyers reminding everyone to be sure and vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fourth term as president.

The first political convention I witnessed was on our first black-and-white television between Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower running for president. I was entranced. At 12 years old, I was too young to join a political group, so I organized The Young, Young Democrats. I was a student body officer in junior and senior high where I was active on many committees.

My political reality changed when I married at 19 outside of my political party. Yikes! I hadn’t registered because you had to be 21 in those days. Much to my own surprise, when it was time to register I registered non-partisan. It felt uncomfortable, but I loved both my family and my husband, and this was a big issue for them both. I remained that designation for 26 years, then I claimed a party.

All this just to ask the question “How do we create the conditions for students to become eager, involved participants in their school and community?”

I am founder of The Center for Effective Learning in Federal Way, dedicated to supporting highly effective teaching. Our goals include improving the delivery of meaningful education while creating the conditions for learning and fostering a sense of responsible citizenship. In the classrooms of highly effective teachers, there are regular town hall meetings where students discuss and solve problems collaboratively — learning the difference between consensus and majority and the job of the leaders to accept the input of their fellow students and move forward.

We make sure that science and social studies have a social or political action attached to the content, and each class has a world map asking students to identify: Where in the world is there evidence of stewardship, leadership and citizenship being demonstrated?

We accept without question the use of tests, and the numbers they reveal to determine how students understand their skills. There should be a test to see how well they are developing citizenship responsibilities. These can include conservation of resources, employment, participation in local issues, good neighbor, staying informed on critical issues, voting, being a supportive family member and obeying the laws.

Citizenship doesn’t happen without intention. It needs to be modeled, nurtured, discussed and demonstrated, empowering students to see the possibilities and responsibilities of a free society.

Feb. 19 is Election Day. Be there, make an informed vote and talk the issues over with your teenagers. Think about it.

Susan J. Kovalik is an educator, consultant and author in Federal Way. Contact: skovalik@kovalik.com.

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