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VA History Museum Announces Launch of Major Statewide Civics Education Program

The Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC) haso launcedh a major, statewide civics education program for middle grade students—a legacy project of the VMHC’s 250th Initiative.

Civics Connects, a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive, classroom-ready resource for Virginia students, is born from years of related work by the VMHC and its John Marshall Center for Constitutional History & Civics (JMC). The program offers a robust array of best-in-class educational tools designed with significant input from Virginia educators at every level and will include lesson plans, interactive slides, classroom activities, and the opportunity for onsite educators, subject matter experts, and special museum experiences.

Additionally, a core feature of Civics Connects will be a series of video shorts that feature Virginia middle schoolers as civics investigators visiting the Virginia Capitol, VMHC, and other important sites around the Commonwealth—and even the National Archives and The White House—on a quest to understand America’s founding documents and world-changing ideas, its principles of democracy, and our collective responsibilities and rights under the Constitution.

Even before the pandemic’s learning-loss epidemic, civics education had been losing ground for some time. America’s resulting “civics crisis” is evidenced in low standardized test scores and in countless recent polls that reveal not only a lack of knowledge about democratic principles and systems but, perhaps even more concerning, young America’s apathy about democratic forms of government.

Only about one in three Americans can pass the U.S. Citizenship Test, which requires correct answers to only 60 percent of its questions (Institute for Citizens & Scholars). Less than half of U.S. adults can name all three branches of government, and about one in four respondents cannot identify even one (University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center). And, perhaps worst of all, about half of young Americans do not believe democracy is preferable to other forms of government (The Economist/YouGov).

Against this challenging backdrop and in step with the vast educational opportunities afforded by America’s 250th, Civics Connects will provide Virginia students with a major new toolkit for inquiry-based exploration and discovery. This first-of-its-kind educational resource portfolio will provide a sweeping foundation of civics, will cover all Virginia standards of learning for civics and economics in the middle grades, and align with broader national standards.

“We are excited to offer a revolutionary new program that will equip Virginia students with a deeper understanding of civics, democracy, and the responsibility of citizenship,” says Jamie Bosket, VMHC President & CEO. “The launch of this program is a momentous occasion for Virginia, as it puts the Commonwealth at the forefront of a national movement to prioritize civics education and invest in the future of American democracy.”

Civics Connects will rely on a Civics Ambassador Corps comprised of educators contracted in all eight Virginia Superintendent Regions, who will pilot and promote the program beginning with the upcoming 2024–25 academic year, a year where Virginia schools will begin to transition from the 2015 standards of learning to those approved in 2023 and will begin to make a Virginia Department of Education-recommended shift from civics as an eighth-grade course to one taught in the seventh grade.

Civics Connects is designed to help civics thrive rather than falter during this time of transition and disruption and help ensure that all Virginia middle school students receive a full year of civics ahead of their high school careers. Units will be introduced throughout the year, beginning with America’s Founding Documents in July, and paced to Virginia schools’ coverage of civics and economics content.

Civics Connects is a legacy program of the VMHC’s 250th Initiative, a leading, three-year initiative launched last year to support Virginia and the nation in marking the 250th anniversary of American independence. In addition to this significant investment in civics and history education, the VMHC will mount two major exhibitions in 2025 and 2026, with traveling versions moving around the state. The VMHC will also host several public programs and lectures, debut a new podcast and virtual tour experiences, and publish a series of new scholarly works.

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