In a democratic society an important purpose of schools is the preparation of students for their involvement in civic life. Today it is more important than ever that students leaving high school have a basic understanding of public issues and have the ability to participate fully in the political process. In order to do this they must be able to think critically, exercise sound judgment, and care about the rights and welfare of their fellow citizens.
The LegiSchool Project, founded in 1994, as an educational collaboration between the California State University, Sacramento, and the California State Legislature, was designed to cultivate these civic virtues. The Project achieves this goal by creating opportunities for high school students to participate in debates concerning the problems affecting California citizens.
The Projects educational approach differs from the traditional fact-based approach to civics in which government is taught apart from the concerns of students. By focusing instead on issues that directly impact students, the LegiSchool activities and materials increase students interest in the learning experience. Recent Town Hall Meetings have addressed issues such as violence in schools, education reform, and affirmative action.
To achieve our mission, LegiSchool has focused on two distinct initiatives: televised Town Hall Meetings and a Video Curriculum Library. The first element of the project has been to produce a series of interactive Town Hall Meetings in which state government officials and high school students meet face-to-face to discuss current issues and legislation. The primary purpose of the Town Hall Meetings is to engage students in the same debates in which their legislators are involved. Each meeting is broadcast live from the State Capitol on the California Channel and allows students in schools around the state to participate in the meeting by telephone. To assist teachers and students, comprehensive study packets are available for classroom use before and after each televised event. Five Town Hall Meetings are conducted each year: two in the fall, two in the spring, and a day-long Student Journalism Summit in February or March. This event is the result of a statewide student essay contest and includes a Student-Run Press Conference.
The second initiative of LegiSchool is the development of a Video Curriculum Library that draws from the State Legislatures video archives. Each "package" in this library contains videotaped footage of the hearings, public testimony, and floor debates associated with particular bills recently debated in the Legislature, along with articles, press clipping, reports and editorials on matters related to the bills. A unique feature of this project is that its products are developed by the same people who will use them: teachers and students. Subjects addressed in the library include the bicycle helmet law, teen pregnancy prevention legislation, the "Three Strikes" law and school uniforms. The most recent additions to the library are the "Day in the Life of the Legislature" and "A Day in the Life of the Secretary of State." Plans are to continue this series with "A Day in the Life of the Governor, the Mayor, a Candidate," etc.
It is estimated that 10,000 California high school students take part in LegiSchool activities each year either through direct participation at Town Hall Meetings, via the California Channel or by videotapes provided to teachers.
All LegiSchool curriculum materials and videotapes are available to educators at no charge.
The Project is administered through the Center for California Studies at CSU, Sacramento. The coordinator of the LegiSchool Project is Sarah Vogel.
Town Hall Meetings
The first element of the Project is an on-going series of interactive, televised Town Hall Meetings and Press Conferences in which state government officials and high school students meet face-to-face to discuss current issues and legislation. These meetings enable students and other interested citizens throughout the state to participate in the discussion. Comprehensive study packets are available for classroom use before and after each televised event.
The Video Curriculum Library
Drawing from the state legislature's video archives, an issues-oriented civics curriculum has been developed by a team of students, educators, and parents. Each "package" in this library contains videotaped footage of the committee hearings, public testimony, and floor debates associated with particular bills recently debated in the legislature. The bills selected for the library are those likely to stimulate interest among high school students--bills such as The School Uniforms Bill of 1994 which permits school districts to require its students to wear uniforms to school.