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Educational Travel to Learn More About Government, Election is Possible

The More Challenging the Election Conversation Becomes, the More These Teachers Believe We Should Be Engaging Our Students

Our country is in the middle of a very unique election year, something that most people can agree on regardless of party affiliation.

While education as an issue is only mentioned fleetingly as candidates’ more sensationalist views tend to capture public attention, there is something going on in K-12 classrooms that shouldn’t be swept under the rug.

Because of the difficult topics that have spawned from this season, many teachers are hesitant to teach about the 2016 presidential election at all. A study from earlier this year, though non-scientific, asked 2,000 educators about how they’re teaching about this election in their classrooms and found that 40% of them aren’t. Many, the study found, fear they will inspire hate-talk and bullying without being able to combat it for fear of compromising their unbiased positions.

A recent article corroborates this study, as seen in the Education Week piece: “Some Teachers Hesitant to Talk About Clinton, Trump in the Classroom.” 

Other articles similarly read: “Teachers: Presidential campaign tone negatively impacting Washington kids” and “BIAS ALERT: Professor says Trump is so bad, class doesn't have to be balanced.”

The headlines seem to be captivated by the negative effects this election has in the classroom, so we decided to showcase the positive by talking to teachers who are doing the complete opposite. Rather than shying away from this election and depriving students of a gravely important moment in their civic education, they’re opting to fully immerse their students in the process.

These teachers are taking their kids to the upcoming Inauguration: regardless of who wins.

 

”It probably was the highlight of my teaching career so far”

Education World talked to Jenny Vincent and Julie Richoux, two educators with a commitment to teaching students civic responsibility in their classroom year after year-with this year being no exception to the rule.

Both Julie and Jenny are veteran educators. Julie has been teaching in Richmond, Texas for 23 years, while Jenny has been teaching in Chicago for 14.

Not only do they share a love for engaging students, but they also have both seized an opportunity that has allowed them to take their kids to one of our nation’s most historic moments- multiple times. (Through EF Explore America, Julie and Jenny have collectively been to four Inaugurations between the two of them.)

There’s a slight chance you might already be familiar with Jenny. In 2013, she tirelessly launched a campaign to get her students to “Meet the Man,” a campaign that ultimately resulted in her public elementary school class being the only one from Chicago to watch Barack Obama, a former Chicago resident, sworn into his second term.

Hearing Jenny describe her commitment to getting her students the best possible tour experience is guaranteed to raise the hair right on your arm. Jenny’s campaign wasn’t easy. She describes approaching former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett at a charity basketball game, securing a meeting with former Education Secretary Arne Duncan thanks to a successful Facebook pitch, and eventually getting her students so much attention that they were the subject of a spread in the Chicago Sun Times. Jenny admitted when describing her efforts that retelling her success story gives her goosebumps, too.

“To be able to give these experiences to my kids, it’s still very hard for me to wrap my head around the enormity of what I got to witness,” which was the chance to "watch 17 twelve and thirteen-year-olds witness history.”

”You want [to create] an educated voter for decades to come" 

”The kids were vibrating like live wires,” Jenny describes of her students. ”It probably is the highlight of my teaching career so far,” Jenny says.

Why? Because of the profound impact she knew she was having on her students.

Now, she’s doing it again. Never mind who she hopes to see on that stage on that day, she will be taking her students to the 2017 Inauguration and will be watching another crop of students take history in. She’ has 45 kids coming on the trip this year, some who were encouraged to embark on the trip after their siblings did so in 2013.

Julie expresses similar sentiments. Julie has been doing this since the very first EF Explore America Inauguration trip in 2005. She makes it clear she wouldn’t dare let uncomfortable conversation keep her from doing so this year.

“As a government teacher, you have to…I’d rather them talk about it in an environment where they will hear both sides. Even if I agree with them, I always present the other side. Just because they may not vote this election, they’re going to vote in future elections.”

Julie stresses the importance of teaching students about both candidates, regardless of personal views, so students can adequately understand the election process.

”You want [to create] an educated voter for decades to come, not just this election,” she says.

”It’s...more important now than ever for students to have the opportunity to experience the Inauguration"

So what is this EF Explore America that has made these experiences possible for Julie and Jenny? EF Explore America is an organization that is committed to setting educators up for successful educational travel. 

For example, EF Explore America provides educators with extensive training that covers everything from giving them ways to promote their tour, helping them get comfortable with the pre-departure process, teaching them to how to best engage parents and pairing them with a tour director to do guided sight seeing for a pre-trip experience.

To best ensure that they are fully engaging their students, they offer personalized learning opportunities like WeShare, a tool that asks students to describe their opinions leading up to the event.

Built on teacher and student feedback, all groups are enrolled on WeShare prior to the trip to give "students an opportunity to connect their tour experience to their curriculum…or to a topic they’d like to explore further in a really fun way,” Carla Gottschall, Executive Vice President of Sales at EF Explore America said. 

Carla doesn’t seem to be worried that teachers’ and students’ experiences might be different this year.

”It’s even more important now than ever for students to have the opportunity to experience the Inauguration, to understand how our government works...regardless of your political affiliation.. I think having the opportunity for students to understand that they are being a part of history is so important,” she says.

Carla’s stories, like Jenny’s, are nothing short of goosebump-inducing. Carla describes how a small town boy raised in a family of cattle ranchers was encouraged to break the cycle and pursue a career in education thanks his experience with EF Explore America as a student. From here, he made it his goal to bring the opportunities available through EF Explore America to his community. Now, he’s a group leader and he, too, brings his students on Explore America trips.

EF Explore America embraces this role helping educators create communities with a commitment to civic education.

”Many of our group leaders are looking to establish a tradition of travel within their communities and get them going. So we’re here to partner with them and support them along the way with all aspects of their tour planning and tour process,” she says of EF Explore America’s commitment to educators.

Certainly, Julie and Jenny can agree with this.

So there it is. Sure, bringing up tough election topics may lead to difficult conversations. Some conversations might be unpleasant. A commitment to being unbiased might prove to be more challenging than ever.

But as these educators prove as they get ready for what could possibly be one of the most unique Inauguration Days this country will have: their students’ civic education is worth it.

Want to find new resources for engaging your students in the election this year? Check out "Resources to Engage Students in the Presidential Election This School Year."

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

8/26/2016

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