Colorado Showcase Celebrates Civic Engagement

May 17, 2024

Last Friday, I was fortunate to participate in one of my first iCivics events—a Civics Showcase celebrating the incredible work of Colorado students and educators piloting iCivics’ U.S. History curriculum.

Beginning in 2022, with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, iCivics developed a full-year, early-U.S. history, 8th grade curriculum aligned with the Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy that integrates civics and history content with instructional best practices.

This inquiry-based curriculum was built in collaboration with expert educators, historians, and practitioners from across the nation. It is aligned with state standards, and districts and teachers can customize it to the needs of any state, community, and classroom.

Through the curriculum, students engage with curated primary and secondary sources such as historical documents, speeches, letters, journal entries, photographs, maps, and videos to dig deep and explore this country’s early history. Students are asked to engage in classroom projects that allow them to investigate and answer important questions about our country in the years preceding its founding through Reconstruction.

Colorado has been a trailblazer in this endeavor. Jeffco Public Schools in Jefferson County, Colorado, was one of the first districts to pilot the U.S. History curriculum last year (along with Santa Fe, NM, and Oklahoma City, OK). Building on the success in Jefferson County, another Colorado school district, Cherry Creek Public Schools, implemented the curriculum this year.

The impact of this project-embedded approach to U.S. History was on full display at the recent showcase. Nearly 100 students, family members, educators, schools leaders, and community members came to the History Colorado Center in Denver to view 22 unique student projects. Against the background of the artifacts, stories, and art that illustrate the history of Colorado and the American West, students presented a range of inspiring projects exploring key moments and questions from early U.S. History, and how they shaped institutions and civic life in the United States today. Their thoughtful, researched reflections touched on everything from the impact of early European settlers to Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny, from slavery and the Civil War to the Industrial Revolution and evolving rights, responsibilities, and expectations of Americans.

And it wasn’t just students who felt the impact of this modern approach to teaching history and civics. Participating teachers—even 20-year veteran teachers—shared how this curriculum shifted their practice to become more student-centered. I was particularly moved by the exuberance of so many parents who were amazed how different this was from their own history and civic education. Many wondered aloud if they would have loved history if they had learned it this way, and were grateful their children were able to benefit from such a meaningful educational experience.

This incredible event was part of a series of proactive family and community engagements to ensure transparency and promote connection beyond the classroom. This was made possible with additional support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation. These learnings and examples will also feature in an implementation toolkit to emphasize the importance of family engagement for widespread district adoption.

I can’t tell you what it meant to me and my colleagues who worked to make this vision possible to see the real and lasting impact this in-depth learning has on students, educators, and entire communities. We want to reiterate our thanks to all the funders who have made this work possible. Perhaps most importantly, we welcome other districts to adopt this highly engaging and effective curriculum as well. Please feel free to email me for more information.

Written by Mya Baker

Mya joined iCivics in 2024 as the Chief Learning Services Officer. Prior to iCivics, she led TNTP’s consulting work across 14 states, with a focus on helping educators, schools, and school systems expand access to opportunity. Mya also served as the Senior Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Uplift Education in Dallas-Fort Worth. She is a graduate of the University of Texas-Austin (BS in Communications/BA in Government) and earned her Masters in Teaching & Learning from American University.