In June 2015, Connecticut’s Old State House’s (CTOSH) education team conceived of Connecticut’s Kid Governor (CKG), the first-ever statewide election for a 5th grade governor. The new program was an innovative way to teach students about civics, government and the history/process of voting by immersing them in the democratic process and instilling the importance of active citizenship.
CKG provided 5th-grade teachers with online “Toolkits” that enabled them to teach both civics and the importance of civic engagement from the comfort of their classrooms. Elementary, home and private schools in Connecticut were eligible to participate in this free program by nominating a candidate and voting in the election, or just voting in the election. Classes nominating a candidate worked together to research community issues, develop three-point plans to address them, hold primaries to nominate their candidate, and film their nominee’s campaign video. Seven empowered students entered the race with platforms of bullying, school spending, technology in education, reducing gang membership, protecting bats, kindness, and recess time. We posted their campaign videos online in November and during the week of Election Day, Connecticut 5th graders used CTOSH worksheets to analyze the candidates, their platforms and videos. Each student in a registered class was entitled to a vote, with nearly 700 students in 31 classrooms and 15 cities participating.
Elena Tipton (East Hartford) won the election with her platform of kindness. Elena is now working with CTOSH during her one-year term to make CT a kinder state and execute her three-point plan through videos, her “Kindness is Kool” blog (CT.KidGovernor.org), and an Office/Civics Action Lab at CTOSH.
By working with teachers, CKG produced an engaging, relevant, and easily-implementable program. Their feedback informed goals, Toolkits, the number of candidates in the election and program timeline. Focus groups with CT’s Social Studies Coordinator, community members, and CTOSH friends informed how the program could attract community interest in youth activism. As a result, CKG was a true partnership with educators and community members and demonstrates the power behind museum-school-community collaborations.