After this year's presidential election, the next one takes place in 2024. The other day I realized that my son will be able to vote in it.
That blew my mind! Graham is 14 now, and though he's almost a foot taller than me, I still think of him as a kid. But in four years, he'll be getting his own ballot in the mail — or driving himself to the polls.
I think he'll be ready. For the last three years, both he and his younger sister, Ivy, have been helping me develop activities for the Good Citizen Challenge, a youth civics initiative organized by Seven Days and Kids VT and funded by the Vermont Community Foundation.
We started it to bolster students' knowledge of our government and how it works. If they can memorize arcane Harry Potter trivia, surely they can grasp the difference between the House and the Senate, right?
The Good Citizen Challenge also addresses political polarization by focusing on our shared civic heritage, from the First Amendment to the Gettysburg Address. It encourages young Vermonters to practice writing letters to elected officials, having civil conversations with people who disagree with them, and learning how to spot sources of reliable, fact-based journalism.
Seventy-seven students finished the first Challenge over the summer of 2018 and attended a celebratory day at the Statehouse the following spring. The second Challenge started in the fall of 2019 and ended in March, two weeks before the schools shut down. About 800 kids from all across the state participated, and more than 200 finished it. Sadly, we had to cancel the gathering in Montpelier.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the project went remote. To aid parents and teachers with in-home learning, we created a weekly Coronavirus Challenge, with support from the Evslin Family Foundation. For 10 weeks in the spring, we introduced weekly activities focused on history, news literacy and making positive contributions to the community. My kids helped me raffle off prizes during Wednesday afternoon Facebook Live broadcasts.
Over the summer, we switched to easier-to-organize monthly Challenges. In September, we invited participants to create a poster encouraging adults to vote. We got a bunch of sweet submissions; this one appeared in Seven Days' 2020 Voters' Guide, published in last week's paper. We showcase more of them on page 22 of the October Kids VT, which is inside this week's Seven Days.
For this month's Challenge, we're asking students to contact their legislative candidates — with their parents' or teacher's permission and assistance — to find out about the issues driving their campaigns. We hope to organize another, more ambitious Challenge again soon.
In the meantime, if you'd like to try some of the activities we've developed, find them at goodcitizenvt.com. Or improvise your own.
For example, on Saturday morning, I sat down with Graham to review candidate Q&As in our Voters' Guide. I asked him to study their photos and responses. What kind of experiences did the candidates cite? Who seemed trustworthy, and why? What did all those acronyms mean? Those questions led us in interesting and unexpected directions.
Such conversations have grounded me during this tumultuous election year. I can't control what's happening in Washington, D.C., but I can help my kids decipher what's going on and show them how to participate in our democracy.
This is no time to sit on the sidelines. Our country needs all the Good Citizens it can muster.