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Constitutional Education Project Takes Educators to Philadelphia

After COVID-19 delays, the educators involved in the 2019 Civic Education Program were able to complete their experience with the Wheatley Institute.

How can we increase the rising generation's knowledge of and commitment to the virtues and values that inform our constitutional government? This has been the effort of the Wheatley Institute's Civic Education Project since 2016, by strategically reaching primary and secondary educators.

In June of this year, a unique iteration of that project came to fruition after years of planning. Twenty-nine educational leaders from the nearby Wasatch County School District traveled together to Philadelphia, putting the finishing touches on many months of leadership training.

This project was a unique iteration of the Civic Education Project. Previous versions had involved participants from all of the school districts in BYU’s Public School Partnership and addressed civics education generally. For this year’s project, a single school district proposed collaboration with Wheatley to do a year of professional development for their school and district leaders, based on the leadership traits of American Founders. Preliminary discussions led to a jointly designed, jointly funded project.

Beginning in fall 2019, school and district leaders met monthly with a facilitator from Wheatley. In preparation for each meeting, they read biographical accounts of a particular Founder, then spent their time together discussing the leadership traits they saw and ways of applying them to the schools in their district. Their topics included John Adams’ vision and persistence, the strategic genius and hard work of Henry Knox, and Abigail Adams’ sacrifices and willingness to do what was within her reach, among others. The plan was to finish with a trip to Boston and Philadelphia in June 2020. The goals of the trip were to cement the things they had learned, spend team-building time in the Founders’ actual settings, and find renewal and inspiration for meeting the rigors of their continuing leadership.

In what has become an all-too-familiar story, in March of 2020, the monthly meeting was cancelled to avoid the spread of Covid and, with new travel restrictions popping up everywhere, preparations for the culminating trip came to a halt. For nearly two years, district leadership grappled with the multiple unrelenting challenges of administering public education in a pandemic. By the time things began to ease in early 2022, both the need and the resolve to complete the project had increased.

Monthly sessions resumed in February 2022. Given spiraling travel costs, the trip was trimmed to 4 days in Philadelphia, each day packed with time at historic sites and museums, presentations by the renowned actors of American Historical Theatre, and, importantly, group discussions led by the superintendent.

The impact on the group was profound. One participant wrote, “Wow, what a trip! The tours, the actors, the reverence, and the almost palpable presence of our founding fathers was humbling and inspiring. We left this trip with the clear message that it is our job to continue their good works, to help our community and children work toward an even more perfect Union.”

Time will tell whether the project achieved all its aims, but in describing the impact of the experience in Philadelphia, another Wasatch leader wrote that the project “will help to shape us as individuals and influence the teachers and students we lead for many years to come.”