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New museum-based program hopes to get kids excited about civics

According to a2022 report by the National Assessment of Education Progress, only 22% of eighth graders nationwide were considered proficient in civics.

“How can that not hurt every single American?” said Democratic U.S. Rep. John Larson. "We never get to the heart of who we are as a people and as a nation, and the only way we can get there is through education.”

Larson, a former school teacher, isn’t the only one concerned that many young Americans are not being taught the basics of democracy and the function of our government. A new $2 million initiative aims to provide more than 100,000 Connecticut students civics education programs through visits to four museums — Mystic Seaport, The Mark Twain House, The Fairfield Museum and History Center, and The Connecticut Museum of Culture and History, which will administer the program.

The Civics Education for Connecticut Students Project increases the number of civics programs in those museums, while also making it easier for schools to participate, by reducing museum fees and subsidizing the cost of field trip buses.

Sally Whipple is the executive director of the Connecticut Democracy Center at the Old State House. She said the focus of the program will be on elementary school children.

“We have to spark that interest, and that desire to make things better, to work together across differences. To feel that we really are a part of our communities.”

The Connecticut Democracy Center, which runs Connecticut’s Old State House, also received funding as part of the Civics Education for Connecticut Students Project.

The funding was secured by Larson, and was included in the FY 2023 government funding package signed by President Joe Biden in December. The program is expected to start in the fall.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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