Most people would agree that knowing the history, principles, and foundations of American democracy, and the ability to participate in civic and democratic processes, are vital to our citizenry. NEA and the Girls Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) think so, which is why the organizations have recently signed an agreement to work together to promote civics education—using the GSUSA’s Civic Engagement Curriculum.
In today’s climate, informed voting and voter rights are as important as ever, but civics engagement goes beyond casting a ballot. It requires developing students’ critical thinking and debate skills, along with strong civic virtues.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of NEA and former Girl Scout shared in a video announcing the partnership, “I decided that I wanted to be an activist and an advocate, and it all started with the Girl Scouts.”
NEA believes this education begins in the classroom, helping to cultivate well informed and educated students who are confident and ready when it is their turn to take their place in the voting community. The Girl Scouts are teaching the same lessons in troop meetings around the country.
In support of this new partnership, NEA is asking its members to volunteer with their local troops and to use the Girl Scouts’ Civic Engagement Curriculum to instruct students on the struggles that have led to our current rights and how they can get involved in their communities.
To learn how to volunteer with your local troop, visit girlscouts.org/NEA.
Until the 1960s, it was common for American high school students to have three separate courses in civics and government. But civics offerings were slashed as the curriculum narrowed over the ensuing decades, and lost further ground to “core subjects” under the NCLB-era standardized testing regime.
Contrary to popular belief, the problem isn’t that students receive no civics education. All 50 states require some form of instruction in civics and/or government, and nearly 90 percent of students take at least one civics class. But too often, factual book learning is not reinforced with experience-based learning opportunities like community service, guided debates, critical discussion of current events, and simulations of democratic processes.
Even states that require civics education rarely take best practices into account. Since 2015, several states have required students to pass the U.S. citizenship exam before graduating high school. But putting so much attention on rote memorization actually diminishes the likelihood that students will develop more meaningful civic skills.
The Girl Scouts curriculum is designed for every grade level and is broken down in three sections: K-5, middle school, and high school. Elementary school students, for example, can learn how people have made a difference in their community while middle school students learn problem-solving skills by studying how people with different opinions can work together to create positive change. High school students get more hands-on experience by finding out how to be an actively engaged citizen who works to affect change.
Several troops nationwide have already shared how they’ve used the Girl Scouts’ Civic Engagement Curriculum. Here are some examples:
- Lead positive change in your community.
Cassie, a 17-year-old Ambassador, has been fighting to end child marriage in New Hampshire.
- Stand up against everyday injustices.
A troop of Muslim Girl Scouts in California educates the community by holding an annual Open Mosque Day to combat Islamophobia.
- Create and support petitions.
Troop 30245’s petition helped pass a law banning tobacco use in its town parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields.
- Participate in parades and marches.
Girl Scouts placed flags at more than 5,000 grave sites at the East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery prior to marching in their local Memorial Day parade.
Other Opportunities to Partner
The partnership between NEA and GSUSA also encourages “every single one of our NEA members to do what you can to volunteer with your local troop,” says García. One Illinois local is already working with its local troop.
Thanks to a grant from the Illinois Education Association (IEA), special education van driver Tasha McQuay and her education support professional (ESP) colleague Karen Jackson were awarded $1,000 to benefit students and members of Junior Girl Scouts Troop 235. The 30-35 special education student-passengers on the district’s five vans each received a backpack filled with education-related items that encourage reading, writing, and arithmetic. Some of the drawing boards, puzzles, and other items were created from scratch by several Junior members, ages 9 -11. The participating scouts will earn Bronze awards for their effort.
“For the longest runs, this gives the kids something to do,” says McQuay, a member of the Southwestern ESP Association. “The focus is on the ride, so we can use that time to benefit the students and help further their education … and the life skills they are getting at school.”
“We know that when given the opportunity, girls change the world,” says García.