- Charlotte Krueger reading the News & Citizen
With less than a month to go before the primary election, political lawn signs are popping up all across Vermont, including for the Congressional candidates featured in this week's cover story. Despite the drumbeat of grim national and international news — from the shootings in Uvalde and Highland Park to the war in Ukraine and the assassination of Shinzo Abe — the signs remind us that there are still people here who believe in democracy and are willing to work for it.
Another hopeful indicator: Kids are taking the summer Good Citizen Challenge, a youth civics project organized by Seven Days and our parenting publication, Kids VT, along with partners including the Vermont Historical Society and the Vermont Community Foundation.
The Challenge encourages kids to engage in their communities, learn about Vermont history and government, and follow local media. It's an attempt to get them excited about civics by turning it into a kind of game. And it's working!
Last Thursday I saw a note in Winooski's Front Porch Forum from a dad whose son is doing the Challenge. On Saturday, I ran into a grandmother helping her grandkids with it at the Vermont History Museum in Montpelier. And I got two entries recently from 10-year-old Charlotte Krueger of Jeffersonville.
To complete the Challenge, participants do five activities in a row on a bingo-like scorecard; find one on page 73 of this issue. There are 25 activities to choose from. Charlotte opted to help a neighbor improve trails at a nature preserve (activity #9), research Snowflake Bentley and draw a portrait of him (#1), and read her community newspaper, the News & Citizen (#22). "My favorite article was on kids that painted murals on a walkway for their summer camp program," she wrote on the submission form.
On Sunday, I spoke with Nichole Wolfgang of Peacham, whose kids, August, 13, and René, 11, have completed past Challenges — we've organized several since 2018. The siblings are aiming to do all of the activities this time around, partly because they're motivated by the grand prize: a free trip to Washington, D.C. Every participant who completes a row of activities is entered in a drawing for the trip along with other prizes, including a globe and a $100 gift card to Phoenix Books. Everyone who enters gets a pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution.
René's take on the Good Citizen Challenge? "I think it's pretty fun."
His favorite task so far was learning the origin of the name of a hill near his house (#4), which he found in a book of Vermont place names at the Peacham Library. "Devil's Hill got its name because it was a 'devil of a hill' for the settlers to climb," he declared.
August enjoyed drawing a map of Peacham (#2) and visiting Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester (#3). He and his dad stopped by on the way home from a trip to Burlington and read the historical marker about the Buffalo Soldiers once stationed there.
Nichole appreciates that the Challenge motivates her family to do and talk about things that they might not otherwise. She admits that they often avoid the national news because "it's kind of negative," but the Challenge has prompted them to read local newspapers and watch "Vermont This Week" on Vermont Public, which has led to discussions of local issues.
"I like the conversations we're having," she said. "It gets us outside our bubble and makes us think about things a little differently."
There's still plenty of time to start the Good Citizen Challenge: The deadline to enter is Labor Day, September 5. Find more information and submit entries at goodcitizenvt.com.