Growing up to be an informed citizen who makes arguments based on facts takes a lot of practice, according to North Whidbey Middle School teacher Don Jenkins, whose efforts to help students get that practice have been nationally recognized.
The National Association of State Boards of Education, or NASBE, recently named Jenkins one of four “civic engagement champions” nationwide.
He turns history lessons about Lewis and Clark into research projects about grizzly bear conservation, holds mock elections in class and encourages his students to gather information on local issues and come up with solutions.
“Ultimately, the goal is to have good citizens who make informed decisions,” Jenkins said.
In his world history and Pacific Northwest history classes, he’s had the students prepare proposals to present to leaders and subject experts on a number of topics.
NASBE, in its announcement of Jenkins’ award, highlighted his lessons regarding Lewis and Clark’s expedition, their encounters with wildlife and the connection to how those wildlife are faring now.
The class prepared arguments for whether grizzly bears should be added to the North Cascades ecosystem, and the students sent their arguments to state lawmakers, a wildlife agency or to the newspaper in a letter to the editor.
The award was created by NASBE and the Frank Islam Institute for 21st Century Citizenship to “highlight the critical role that middle school teachers play in helping students become active, responsible citizens,” according to a press release.
Jenkins said he also wants his students to know that adults will listen to their opinions, especially if they’re supported by solid evidence.
He and the other award winners will be recognized Oct. 18 in Omaha, Neb., where he’ll receive a $5,000 award from the Frank Islam Institute for 21st Century Citizenship.
“It’s nice to show how important civic education is,” Jenkins said of receiving the award. “Anytime that can be brought up and given a spotlight, I think that is very important.”