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[SOUND: middle school hallway..]
Inside the hallways at Pipkin Middle School in Springfield, you will find the classroom of Julia Armstrong, an 8th grade Humanities and Technology teacher. Armstrong is in her 11th year at Pipkin.
“The classes that I teach, the humanities classes, are looking at American history from all the way back through colonization to the Civil War. And a huge chunk of our time is spent on civic education, and specifically the Constitution, and how our country runs,” Armstrong said.
So far, her students have learned about early Colonial America, and have begun looking at the reasons why the colonies rebelled from Britain. But she’s also mixing in current events. With presidential and state elections coming up in early November, she’ll be spending plenty of time with her students to focus on the candidates and issues. A few weeks before the elections, she’ll have her students fill out their own voter registration cards, and on Tuesday, November 6th, her students will participate in a mock election.
“I’m going to have them research the topics, and the candidates, and the party platforms, and look at some of the third parties as well. For the mock election, all students will be voting, and we will have students that will be poll workers. We won’t have students play out the candidate roles, but they’ll all get to play a part in the election process,” Armstrong said.
But the lessons Armstrong teaches in her classroom go beyond American history and politics. She says it’s her students’ civic duty to be members of the international community as well.
“It’s more than just election season. Civic duty – not only as a community member and an American – but also, here at Pipkin, we’re an international baccalaureate world school. So we also try to get them to look internationally: what is their duty as a member of the international world, as well as an American and a member of the Springfield community,” Armstrong said.
Because, as Armstrong says, the earlier these kids learn about the world around them, the better.
“When you’re getting to that age, you have to get a focus and realize that you are a member of this community – locally, nationally, and globally. You do have a part to play, whether you think you do or not. I remember when I was that age, I wasn’t thinking about those types of things. So I feel it’s very important to try to realize the impact that they can have in their community,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong says her civic duty as a middle school teacher is to help her students become informed citizens, because she says these kids aren’t getting many opportunities outside the classroom to learn about what’s going on around the world.
“You know, as a teacher I feel that when it comes to my civic duty, it is to teach my students in a balanced way, where I am the facilitator of their learning, and I’m giving them the opportunity to create experiences and master the content. I’m not someone who just regurgitates facts to them and gives them information. I’m a leader that helps them search for those things,” Armstrong said.
One of her students, Parker Lawson, describes what he’s learned in class so far.
“We learned about the 13 colonies. So they did a lot of trading, and they did have slaves –Virginia had a lot of slaves and indentured servants. So we did a report on that, and we also created a commercial to influence people to come over to our colony,” Lawson said.
So to learn more about the history of racial discrimination, the kids took a field trip to the Discovery Center in Springfield to see an exhibit called “Race: Are We So Different?”. Fellow students like Kayla May say the exhibit helped them solidify their idea of what civic duty means.
“Stand up for others, and don’t be one of the people in the crowd that does what everybody else does. Be one of the people that stands up for our country and stands up for other people. Don’t just blend in,” May said.
May says she and her fellow students are learning a lot about racism and discrimination inside Armstrong’s classroom as well - during early colonial America and in the present. She says it’s important to understand these concepts before high school.
“Because it’s important when we get out into the real world to know how we should act around others, that it’s not right to judge people by their skin color, and just because they’re different, doesn’t mean they’re bad, or doesn’t mean anything. It just means they’re different, and we should accept them for what they are, and not judge them,” May said.
Another student, Eva Harrup, says her civic duty is to protect others from discrimination, a duty she says that will become more important as she gets older.
“And I think it matters even more as an adult, because you’re out in the world. There’s a lot of people. You’re not at home, you’re not at school. You’re going a bunch of different places. It’s amazing how many people you can meet when you’re travelling or just walking down the street to the store. The responsibilities – if anything – become greater as an adult,” Eva said.
Armstrong agrees, which is why she is taking the steps now to ensure these students are fighting for equality when it’s their time to run the country. She says her responsibility as a teacher is to lay the foundation for her students to become the movers and the shakers in our society.
“Ultimately, I want them to become informed citizens, and be able to be balanced and look at both sides. You can be different from your neighbor, and you can respect them – you don’t have to agree with them, but you can respect them, as Americans and as citizens of our country,” Armstrong said.
Join us this afternoon at 4:30 pm as we take a look at the office of Citizenship and Service Learning at Missouri State University, where faculty and students are working to register voters and provide information about candidates and issues before the November 6th election. This story, as well as others from our Sense of Community series, are available online, ksmu.org. I’m Samuel Crowe.