Since 2013, our Capitol Experience Day has been one of Civic Nebraska’s flagship (and favorite!) programs. We know that ‘Cap Days’ make a difference in creating civically engaged students who believe in the power of their own voice and who can effectively advocate for themselves and their communities.
The program has always gone beyond a simple tour of the Nebraska State Capitol, hosting speakers from each branch of government and encouraging active learning about the governing process through a mock committee hearing project. This fall, we continued to build on the success of this tried and true model, offering students and teachers additional support ahead of time and more tailored activities during their classes’ Capitol Experience Days.
This fall, we hosted nearly 500 participants during 16 Cap Days. Here’s a quick breakdown of its impact by area.
As mentioned, we worked this fall to make Cap Days more responsive to the needs and interests of participants. Teachers and group leaders worked directly with me – Bridget Claborn, our Civic Health Program Manager – to design experiences best suited to their students.
Lincoln Southeast brought a debate class and instead of a committee hearing, we did a mock congressional debate.
Lincoln Northeast brought a special education class and we completed a legislative scavenger hunt. Students explored legislative offices and other hot spots in the building. A few got to take selfies with State Sens. Rick Kolowski and Lynne Walz! We facilitated a Nebraska State Government pre-lesson in their classroom ahead of Cap Day. Be on the lookout for that lesson; we’ll publish it soon to CivicNebraska.org for anyone to use.
Lincoln North Star teamed up with Nebraska U.’s Husker Writers program. Students prepared letters to each of their senators and presented a choral reading of the letters to State Sen. Adam Morfeld (who also is the founder and executive director of Civic Nebraska). The reading was recorded and we will share it when it becomes available.
Omaha Norris Middle School brought two after-school clubs – Omaha Girls Rock and our very own Circles – for a Capitol Experience Day focused on women in Nebraska government. We brought a panel of women in the legislature together, including State Sen. Wendy DeBoer and staffers from the offices of State Sens. Ernie Chambers and Tony Vargas. The girls created their own advocacy projects ahead of time and were able to present the projects and discuss the issues with the speaker panel.
So, this fall was busy but so rewarding! There are “mission moments” on almost every Capitol Experience Day, but one of our favorites from this fall was during a visit with sixth graders from Lewis & Clark Middle School. Students were discussing a bill in their mock committee hearing, and one young man who was playing the role of a “senator” took his seat and exclaimed: “I was made for this!”
These moments remind us of why we do what we do. All Nebraska students deserve the opportunity to see themselves reflected in our government institutions and to realize their role and power in shaping the future of our state.
This is the seventh year of our Capitol Experience Day program and we are more committed than ever to ensure its impact. While building critical thinking and civil discourse skills along the way, we ultimately want young people to walk away with the knowledge that the State Capitol building belongs to the people of Nebraska, that we have ownership of our governmental systems, and that we have agency to make them better.
To learn more about Capitol Experience Days or to set up a visit for your classroom or community group, please contact me at email@example.com. Spots are filling up fast for spring 2020!
– Bridget Claborn, Civic Health Program Manager