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The Ellbogen Foundation Supports Civics Education at UW

The Ellbogen Foundation Supports Civics Education at UWAnnie Wheeler from Kelly Walsh High School in Casper speaks with Rick Ewing from the AHC about her senior division individual exhibit “Radio Waves Through the Decades” in 2013.

The John P. Ellbogen Foundation recently made a contribution of $350,000 for civics education at the University of Wyoming—$250,000 will be used to create an endowment and will be doubled by the State of Wyoming and $100,000 will be available immediately.

Civics programming ignites students’ passion for history and the political process and also creates opportunities for classroom teachers and librarians to hone their skills and bring civics to their students in new ways.

“It is exciting to offer, in partnership with the State, an ongoing funding source for the extraordinary programming of We the People and Wyoming History Day,” says Mary Garland, president of the John P. Ellbogen Foundation. “I look forward to developing this opportunity even more broadly for the benefit of Wyoming students and our nation as a whole.”

This donation enhances funds that are allocated by the legislature and allows the program to achieve more through this public-private partnership.

The contribution from the John P. Ellbogen Foundation will provide the opportunity for collaboration between Wyoming We the People and Wyoming History Day. Under the leadership and with the assistance of the faculty at the American Heritage Center, both programs will gain unparalleled access to scholars, materials, and support. This ultimately allows for a maximization of impact and for an enhanced focus on students, as well as on civics and history teachers in Wyoming. 

“With this generous gift from the Ellbogen Foundation, the AHC will be able to increase our outreach efforts to the students and teachers across the state to encourage more participation in these two important educational programs,” said AHC Acting Director Rick Ewig.

“This is great news, and we salute the Ellbogen Foundation for its generous contribution and commitment to civics education,” says Wyoming State Supreme Court Chief Justice E. James Burke. “We have no doubt that the educational dividends generated by this contribution will benefit our state and its citizens for years to come.” 

Wyoming State Supreme Court Justice William Hill, Retired Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kite, and Wyoming State Representative Rosie Berger share in the celebration of this tremendous gift and are key supporters the mission of civics education in Wyoming.

Beginning in the fall, these programs will reach out and work with educators and students across the state of Wyoming. This funding will provide both introductory and advanced level development to Wyoming educators, including experiential learning and development experiences at historically significant sites throughout the state and nation.

The fund will also support school and student engagement through the activities of We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution and Wyoming History Day by providing them with hands-on learning and real-life exposure to historical artifacts and our state and nation’s founding documents. Students will also have the opportunity to visit the University of Wyoming as part of a Wyoming History experience. The fund will also be used to develop a collaboration with the UW College of Education to develop advanced, historically significant curricula for Wyoming’s schools.

We the People

The We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution program was created to commemorate the framing and adoption of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights and to revitalize education programs in our nation’s schools. The program represents the joint effort of a nationwide network of educators and school leaders.

“Wyoming We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution is indebted to the John P. Ellbogen Foundation for their incredible generosity and longstanding commitment to civics education,” says Matt Strannigan, state director of Wyoming We the People. “Wyoming students and teachers will benefit from their contribution to quality professional development and training to study the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We cannot begin to express the support we have received from a visionary state legislature and now the generosity of the Ellbogen Foundation—this will have far-reaching impacts on civics education in our state and the empowered citizens of the future.”

Students throughout the state prepare for competitive hearings by completing an instructional program using the text, We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution. Each member of the class becomes an expert witness on one or more of the six units in the text and testifies before a panel of judges, legal scholars, justices, lawyers, and civic and community leaders. This study is designed to lead students to a reasoned commitment in the constitutional values of American democracy and to foster both civic competence and civic responsibility.

Since the inception of the We the People program in 1987, more than 30 million students and 90,000 educators nationwide have participated in this innovative course of study. In Wyoming, approximately 5,000 high school students have participated in the competitive hearings since 1987. Since 2007, over 28,000 Wyoming students have been exposed to the program at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. One hundred and twenty-seven Wyoming teachers have received training in the We the People program, and 81 Wyoming schools have received classroom sets of the We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution text.

Wyoming History Day

The National History Day program began at Case Western University in 1974 and came to Wyoming in 1979. Since then, teachers throughout Wyoming have been using History Day to breathe life into the traditional history curriculum by engaging their students in a hands-on and in-depth approach to studying the past.

“Providing today’s students with quality civics education should be a primary goal in every school in our state,” says Dick Kean, the state coordinator for Wyoming History Day. “Knowledgeable, informed, and engaged citizens are essential to the health and welfare of our communities, state, and nation. The best way to ensure that this goal is reached is to provide our teachers with rigorous, effective, and meaningful professional development opportunities. The Ellbogen Foundation has taken the lead in creating an endowment that will make such opportunities a reality for Wyoming teachers, schools, and students.”

Teachers use this innovative curricular framework to challenge students in grades 6 through 12 to improve their research, analytical, and communication skills. Students produce projects based on an annual theme that provides a lens through which to focus their study of history on historical events, ideas, issues, and people in a way that emphasizes the significance of the chosen topics.

The competition excites and motivates both students and teachers to go beyond what occurs in a typical classroom. Students learn more, hone their academic skills, and develop the ability to present information in a format that they are comfortable using. Students write papers; construct exhibits; develop web sites; produce documentaries; and write, create, and present original performances.

Teachers support their students by providing instruction and materials that are rich in content. These teachers’ instruction is not limited to only what one finds in a textbook but includes information that is found in primary and secondary sources.

The American Heritage Center administers Wyoming History Day, which is co-sponsored by the Wyoming State Historical Society in cooperation with the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources.

The 35th Wyoming History Day State contest was held on April 13, 2015, at the University of Wyoming. It once again served as the qualifying event for Wyoming students to become eligible to participate in the National History Day contest held at the University of Maryland in College Park.

The American Heritage Center

The American Heritage Center boasts historical collections unmatched in the region—not to mention the nation—with materials in politics, law, civics, journalism, popular culture, American Studies, and American History. Students in civics benefit greatly from access to these primary sources.

Over the last few years of technological advancement, the American Heritage Center has become a leader in the digitalization of archival material. It partners with the College of Education to provide digital materials with lesson plans for schools statewide. Though digital materials do not offer the same thrill as holding or viewing a primary document in person, they do provide the accessibility to reach a wide audience for years to come.

The John P. Ellbogen Foundation has a long-standing stellar record of supporting and enhancing the abilities of teachers in Wyoming. Through programs such as National Board Certification, the John P. Ellbogen Foundation has seen numerous teachers statewide grow and refine and enhance their craft.

Photo: 
Annie Wheeler from Kelly Walsh High School in Casper speaks with Rick Ewing from the AHC about her senior division individual exhibit “Radio Waves Through the Decades” in 2013. 


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