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September 1, 1992
Vol. 50
No. 1

CAAPS Off to Kids!

    From cleaning up litter to conserving water—The Civic Achievement Award Program motivates students to become involved in their communities.

      Fifth graders at John Ross Elementary School in Edmond, Oklahoma, are cleaning up the town and, in the process, are becoming active, informed citizens. They have planted wildflowers near the school, helped landscape the school grounds, and participated in an annual litter cleanup project.
      And they are not alone in their efforts. Parents assisted with the cleanup and spearheaded the landscaping project. Local businesses donated materials for the landscaping. A paint store supplied the paint with which students created a map of the United States on the school blacktop, and a national aluminum company sponsored a recycling contest for students.
      Community and state leaders have also played a part by visiting the school to educate students about local and state government. The mayor of Edmond talked to them about his duties and asked their opinions on community issues. And a representative in the Oklahoma legislature explained how the state government is organized, how bills are passed, and how citizens can voice opinions to their representatives.
      John Ross is one of thousands of elementary and middle schools across the country where students are engaging in civic action and serving their communities and where parents, community leaders, and businesses are assisting with school projects. What is generating this cooperation between schools, businesses, and communities? The Civic Achievement Award Program (CAAP), a civic education program for 5th through 8th graders conducted by the Close Up Foundation.
      CAAP was established by Congress in 1987 and funded solely through congressional appropriations until 1989. In 1990, Burger King Corporation joined with Congress in supporting the program, expanding the number of students reached nationwide to 425,000. CAAP in Action, a topical version of the program, was introduced during the 1990–91 school year. For the last two years, Burger King has been the sole sponsor of both programs, which have involved one million students each year.
      The format and ease of use of the two interdisciplinary programs make them appealing to teachers and students. They link academic learning and research activities with civic participation through three types of projects. The Learning Project provides a foundation in history, government, geography, economics, culture, and current events. The Research Project teaches students how to locate information, organize it, and communicate it to others. The Civic Project involves them in civic action or community service.
      Community participation sometimes includes inviting community leaders to visit schools and share their knowledge and experiences with the students. These discussions focus on topics covered in the CAAP and CAAP in Action materials. At Cleveland Elementary School in Clayton, North Carolina, the sheriff, the state superintendent, and a state senator visited the 5th grade class to talk to students about their jobs, what good citizens need to know and do, and the importance of learning about responsible citizenship at an early age.
      The Cleveland Elementary students also visited local government offices. To enhance students' understanding of the government section of the Learning Project, teacher Denise Byrd organized a visit to the county courthouse, where students toured the courthouse and the jail and observed a trial.
      Parents often get involved in CAAP as well. Marlene Blakeman, a teacher at Northern Hills Elementary school in Norfolk, Nebraska, holds a meeting for parents to explain the program and encourage their involvement. Blakeman says she makes parents “part of the learning process” by getting their commitment to help their children complete the study sheets and later to discuss together what they have learned.
      Many parents are assisting with their children's Civic Projects. When the 5th graders at Northern Hills planted trees and, again, when they held a car wash to raise money for the historical society, parents supplied materials and participated in both projects.
      The Civic Project has sparked student involvement in thousands of communities across the country, and these young people have proven that they can make their voices heard and improve their communities. At Dyersburg Intermediate School in Dyersburg, Tennessee, 5th graders addressed community concerns—such as the need for recreational facilities and for a school anti-drug program—by testifying before the mayor and board of aldermen. On a larger scale, 8th graders at Suzanne Middle School in Walnut, California, worked to have a water conservation bill passed in the state legislature.
      At Holiman Elementary School in San Angelo, Texas, a local community service project became a nationwide program. The 5th graders wrote, produced, and acted in a videotape promoting home safety for kids. The video was produced for the local Red Cross. Teacher Katrina Oliver received a grant to help produce the video, a local lumber company donated wood for the props, use of the civic theatre was donated, and a cameraman from the television station did the taping. The American Red Cross then distributed the tape to its chapters throughout the country.
      Students at many schools involved community leaders in their Civic Projects. In Westerly, Rhode Island, students at Babcock Middle School worked with the historical society to organize, participate in, and videotape an historical tour of the town. The students also toured the town hall, where they attended and gave presentations at city council meetings. In addition, they established a school recycling program that served as a model for a community-wide effort.
      Other schools involved local businesses in their CAAP projects. At Julia Shannon Elementary in Stuttgart, Arkansas, students gathered information from more than 200 companies for a booklet they were producing about community businesses. In compiling information, the students toured several companies and invited representatives of others to visit their classes. Honeywell Corporation provided a grant to pay for postage and paper and also had the booklets bound. The students donated 75 of the booklets to the Chamber of Commerce and sold the remainder to offset production costs. According to teacher Eleanor Thomas, this project, and the CAAP experience as a whole, helped to forge closer relationships between students, teachers, parents, and the community.

      Julie Dolenga has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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