OMS Civics Day Engages Students in Real World Learning

On March 20, OMS eighth grade students had the opportunity to practice democracy in an authentic learning experience. On Civics Day, the young people were able to interact with local experts and advance their understanding of a topic related to their Civics Action Project, something they have been working on throughout the year.

In 2018, the state of Massachusetts passed a law requiring that Civics be taught in all public schools. Additionally, the law specifies that “Each public school serving students in the eighth grade and each public high school shall provide not less than 1 student-led, non-partisan civics project for each student;...:” and “Civics projects may be individual, small group or class wide, and designed to promote a student's ability to: (i) analyze complex issues; (ii) consider differing points of view; (iii) reason, make logical arguments and support claims using valid evidence; (iv) engage in civil discourse with those who hold opposing positions; and (v) demonstrate an understanding of the connections between federal, state and local policies, including issues that may impact the student's school or community.”

K-12 Social Studies Director Kaitlin Moran says that the Civics Action Project process began with the students developing a better understanding of themselves and the things they value. Brainstorming topics came next, and the young people then started to identify observable, local community problem areas that could be changed. Each eighth grade social studies class voted on a topic that it wants to pursue, some reaching consensus on one and others splitting 50-50 between two areas.

In March, it was time for the students to advance their understanding of the topics further and this meant that they needed to make contact with experts. Ms. Moran and the OMS Civics team of Eric Bakke, Todd Sundstrom, Noah Cabral, Mary Kate Mezzetti, Phillip Hancock, and Nikki Hoctor realized that it would be ideal to bring individuals who worked in each area into the school and provide the students with the opportunity to meet them and ask questions. Bringing the community partners to the students for a morning meeting was also a great way to respect their time as it meant fewer emails going out to them for responses.


On Civics Day, the entire eighth grade gathered in the gym to hear from State Senator Cindy Friedman. Senator Friedman shared how she listens “ student voices to advocate for changes on Beacon Hill.” She cited her participation on a Civics Day panel last year as an example of this.

Senator Friedman also shared information about the work being done at the state level for affordable housing, fixing the MBTA, and supporting transgender youth.

After the keynote, each student attended the student-facilitated panel presentation with local experts in the area that corresponded to their Civics Action Project: Sustainability, Mental Health, Arlington Public Schools Issues, Affordable Housing, Road Safety, and Food Security. The 25 individuals on the panels came from the Arlington Public Schools, the School Committee, Arlington town government, the Police Department, and various nonprofit organizations. Each two-hour session allowed for a debrief where the students talked about what they had learned, shared their thoughts about the experience, and considered the successes, challenges, and learnings.

Every student attendee had a packet that was completed as the morning progressed. These packets, graded the following day, provided a structured way to take notes on who they were hearing from, what they were learning, and the thinking that resulted from their participation.

Civics Day was a tremendous success. Ms. Moran reports that one panelist stated that “This year’s crew of kids was really great and had a LOT of amazing questions. I was really impressed.” Another said “Thank you! I had a wonderful time, and the students were so well prepared. The Ottoson teachers are doing great work!” OMS teachers observed that the students had a good time and were able to add some valuable information to their research. In a thank you note to the participants, one student said “We are so grateful for your help.”

Ms. Moran has the following observations: “Our Civics program is one of the many highlights of our Social Studies programming in Arlington Public Schools. We are so lucky to be supported by community members who are willing to give their time and expertise to help our young people authentically engage in real-world learning.”