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The Wallop Civic Engagement Program K–12 Curriculum Project brings UW expertise to classrooms across the state.
By UW Communications
The 2020–21 school year proved an immense challenge for K–12 educators as they struggled to meet a variety of student needs using virtual and hybrid models. The University of Wyoming stepped up to help, offering free online resources in the form of the Wallop Civic Engagement Program K–12 Curriculum Project.
A virtual curriculum catalog of free video lessons and resources became available last December. Since then, new content has been added regularly. The virtual library includes short video presentations across a range of topics, such as civics, civic engagement, government, history, geography, economics and health—all from UW faculty, partners from Wyoming community colleges and public experts.
Along with brief video courses, the project provides an accompanying teacher resource guide, including discussion questions, and offers teachers the opportunity to schedule a live chat-back—an “Ask Me Anything” session—with the expert presenters to delve more deeply into each topic.
The project represents a collaboration among UW’s College of Arts and Sciences’ School of Politics, Public Affairs and International Studies; UW’s College of Education Trustees Education Initiative; and the Office of Engagement and Outreach. It focuses on student education and K–12 curriculum as part of its broader statewide community engagement commitment.
“The innovative, interdisciplinary outreach effort to partner with Wyoming schools to provide digital resources that address specific curricular needs offers an excellent example
of how UW can be a 21st century land-grant university true to Wyoming roots,” UW President Ed Seidel says.
Social Studies in Focus
The library’s main focus areas correlate with the six Wyoming social studies content standards: citizenship (government and democracy); culture and cultural diversity; production, distribution and consumption (economics); time, continuity and change (history); people, places and environments (geography); and technology, literacy and global connections.
The project is inspired by former Wyoming Sen. Malcolm Wallop who, in his distinguished career serving in the U.S. Senate for three terms and in the Wyoming Legislature, is remembered for his commitment to civil discourse, public education and public service. The project is made possible through the support of the Tucker Foundation, Rocky Mountain Power Foundation and private donors.
The Wallop program began in 2017 to help Wyoming communities and to support UW faculty and student research opportunities. Jean Garrison, a UW professor of political science and international studies in the School of Politics, Public Affairs and International Studies, directs the program. She has served a number of administrative roles, including as founding director of UW’s Office of Engagement and Outreach and at the Center for Global Studies. Jason McConnell, an assistant professor of political science in the School of Politics, Public Affairs and International Studies, co-directs the K–12 curriculum project. He also is a past recipient of a Malcolm Wallop Faculty Fellowship.
“This project has been a valuable UW partnership with teachers in Sheridan and other communities from the start and, with COVID-19, we found a way to shift our gears and make this resource available to teachers across the state,” Garrison says. “We are addressing an immediate need but also developing a sustainable model that addresses UW’s statewide land-grant mission virtually. As we proceed, the Wallop project intends to expand the catalog by taking feedback from teachers about what content their students need most.”
Mike Thomas, a Sheridan High School teacher who has been a partner with the Wallop program, says the K–12 curriculum project is a “21st century, cutting-edge resource for students, teachers and the public.”
He says, “I have firsthand experience regarding the impact on student learning through this project. My students were able to engage with civic experts who were able to relate civic engagement to young people. I believe programs like the Wallop K–12 Curriculum Project will excite, motivate and help our future leaders develop the knowledge, skills and abilities to be effective leaders in our communities.”
UW and Wyoming community college faculty members and public experts work with UW College of Education instructors to share their expertise in aligning topic areas with Wyoming social studies standards. Topics in the project range from a crash course on Wyoming politics and Native American skies and Indian sovereignty to economic and geopolitical issues.
In the short videos, the experts introduce topics and offer interesting facts typically not covered in a survey-style textbook. Classroom teachers make use of the catalog in ways that best suit individual needs, Garrison says.
Camellia Okpodu, UW’s new College of Arts and Sciences dean, says: “Providing access to experts and other virtual resources via the platform broadens the knowledge base by supporting the work of the teachers and enhancing opportunities for student engagement and performance. It provides educational equity to all users. Most impressively, virtual resources ensure that even remote and rural districts are getting the latest advancements in curriculum for their students.”
This past spring, Alyssa McElwain, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, added to the virtual library with lessons to help youths ages 14–18 build and maintain healthy romantic relationships.
The virtual health content library caters to topics linked to Wyoming’s health education content and performance standards. The series of brief modules is hosted on UW’s WyoLearn platform along with the rest of the program’s virtual library.
Barb Rasco, dean of the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, says the skills McElwain is providing through the program will help young people immensely as they enter adulthood. “I am excited that McElwain is going to be able to reach a greater number of high school youth with strategies on managing relationships,” she says.
McElwain is a certified family life educator and a 2020–21 Wallop Faculty Engagement Fellow who focuses on relationship education in adolescent and adult populations. She also is director of the Relationship Education and Leadership project, which provides peer-taught relationship education on campus through Relationship Smarts classes.
From December through May, there were nearly 106 active users including 49 teachers from 22 of 48 school districts representing 16 counties and the Wind River Indian Reservation. Twenty-one UW faculty and staff members, along with several community college partners, have already shared their expertise as part of the project.
The project, like social studies itself, is naturally interdisciplinary. In addition to College of Arts and Sciences and College of Education personnel, staff from the NASA Space Grant Consortium, Law Library, Vaughan Planetarium and American Heritage Center have also contributed.
The program hosted a virtual professional development workshop June 9–10 with UW faculty and K–12 social studies teachers from across the state aimed at building relationships, getting feedback and creating new modules on how to use the virtual library.
“One of the goals is to use this as a basis to develop a learning community across social studies professionals at all levels because no such state organization exists for this discipline currently,” Garrison says.
The project is all about partnerships, and successful education in Wyoming means synergy across K–16, she says. “Our No. 1 mission is to be effective educators and create student success,” Garrison says, adding that this mission is key to successful economic development.
The program is currently seeking additional funding and hopes to continue expanding the virtual library. Already, they’re in talks with folks from the School of Energy Resources, UW’s Science Initiative and humanities faculty for new modules.
While the content is aimed at teachers, anyone from the public can learn from and enjoy the modules. A number of UW Saturday University talks are also available in the virtual library.
Fort Washakie High School social studies teacher Jamie Le Jambre is grateful for this new resource. “We have done all sorts of units, whether related to current events or bigger issues like freedom of speech,” she says. “It can be really hard in rural Wyoming for students to have access to the speakers and experts that are available through the Wallop program. They have really enjoyed that. I love how this program is aligned with the state standards. It’s really easy to find where something might fit in and to build a unit from the materials.”