Empowering the Next Generation through Civic Engagement
Before becoming a teacher I worked in the field of social justice, politics, and policy making. One of my passions is community building. I want to share my previous experience with you because it felt very full circle as I drove home from the White Mountains of New Hampshire this summer.
Children are becoming more politically active to affect the outcome of their future. Two stories on New Hampshire Public Radio played side by side on my drive home from our camping trip. The first story was about the devastating Maui wildfires and the second story was regarding climate change litigation. The interesting part of the legal challenge story was that children are the plaintiffs. In Montana and Hawaii children are suing government agencies to protect their state constitutional rights for a healthy future. Their goal is to affect policy decisions by state agencies for public projects to invest in solutions that will reduce the carbon footprint instead of increase it.
I began to think deeper about a program we have welcomed into the classroom, New Hampshire’s Kid Governor ® a program of NH Civics. This civics program allows students in their fifth year to create a platform, make a video, be nominated and elected as their school nominee, and run for New Hampshire’s Kid Governor ® statewide. The highlights of the program for our school is students are empowered to learn more about civic participation. They are motivated to create an action plan for a topic for which they care deeply.
As a teacher, the program provides an easy to adapt curriculum to teach civics to students. Through the curriculum activities we had challenging discussions about the history of voting; including who was allowed to vote and when. We discussed voter registration and how it differs from state to state, and political parties in a non-partisan way that included all beliefs.
In our classroom, we held two full scale voting days that ran just like our state polling locations. The program also coincides with our statewide voting in the fall. The timing during presidential elections gave us great discussion points to talk about campaign commercials, campaign finance, and witnessing grace and courtesy in the public arena (or not). The timing of the program made our student program relevant and meaningful.
The first year our school participated a student chose a platform to create a holiday for a black soldier named Prince Whipple. Prince Whipple was a slave held by a New Hampshire man named William Whipple and was put into military service during the Revolutionary War. The student’s research and passion taught us all a valuable lesson about our forgotten history and the need for it to be honored.
This past year we had a fifth year student run on a platform to help end food insecurity for children. Sierra was chosen as one of seven students to run for Kid Governor statewide. She is currently serving as a New Hampshire Kid Executive Councilor for 2023.
At our school, Sierra got right to work by setting up a penny drive and donating the proceeds to a nonprofit called Fueled by Kids. Fueled by Kids was created by kids to help other kids. They pack food bags for students to fill the food gap over the weekend. One of Sierra’s favorite experiences was volunteering to help pack the bags. She organized a food drive for our local town’s food pantry and was able to collect over nine full boxes of food. Over summer break she delivered flowers and toiletries to the food bank for distribution.
The national Kid Governor® program, led by The Connecticut Democracy Center, created an opportunity for all the Kid Governors and Executive Councilors from across the country to come together to network on a Zoom call for its annual Leadership Summit. The theme of the summit was teamwork. They had a wonderful lineup of speakers including elected officials. I was amazed at the collaboration and professionalism displayed by all the participants. You can watch NH PBS, The State We Are In, to hear about their work in their own words.
The New Hampshire’s Kid Governor ® program gives students the structure to explore their passions and adult guides to help achieve their goals. Our Montessori schools are positioned to help foster these types of activities that promote “going out” opportunities that contribute positively to our communities.
The Montessori philosophy is such a gift and inspiration to all of us. Montessori blazed a pathway of education that allows us to engage our students at this level and to empower them to make a difference. As Montessori has shared, “preventing conflict is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education” (Montessori, Education & Peace p. 24).
Montessori, for me, was not only an education leader but an activist who worked to implement her ideals and build community. I keep coming back to one of her last speeches before she passed at the first governing board of UNESCO. She was advocating for their work to focus not on the school age child but the child from birth and specifically preschool age. She passionately shared, “At the same time, insofar as my experience is well-founded, you will reveal a treasure trove, the riches of which will cause the world to marvel, and from which mankind and you yourselves will derive an unlooked-for reward.”
In today’s world our students are going to have to prevent conflict while making peace and solutions. I am looking forward to including more opportunities in my classroom and at our school that model this type of engagement and community building at the local level. I leave you with an inspiring quote from my summer read, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle (Coyle, 2018, p. xviii). May you and your community be inspired to create a little magic in your community driven by your students.
 NHPR. Accessed August 16, 2023.
 New Hampshire Kid Governor. Accessed August 16, 2023.
 Fueled by Kids. Accessed August 16, 2023.
 AMI Website. Accessed August 16, 2023.
 Coyle, Daniel. Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. 2018. Random House Publishing Group: NY.
About the Author
Jessica Clark holds her AMS Elementary I credential from the Seacoast Center Montessori Teacher Training Program and her Elementary II certification from METTC in Lexington, MA. Jessica has a Masters degree in Public Policy from New England College and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Women’s Studies from Vermont College-Norwich University. She is currently completing LETRS training through Lexia Learning. Jessica is a fourth generation teacher with fond memories of reading on the lap of her great grandmother Alice. She follows in her G.G.’s footsteps teaching in a multi-age classroom. Her greatest joys in the classroom include sharing moments of discovery with students, botany, history, baking, peace education, and sharing a good book. When she is not in the classroom she loves going to the ocean and hiking with her family.
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The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.