First Amendment Schools project names 11 participating schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Eleven schools from across the countrywere chosen today to participate in the First Amendment Schoolsproject, an initiative designed to transform how students aretaught about the First Amendment and democracy.

Five high schools, three middle schools and four elementaryschools were selected as the first project schools based on theirsize, student demographics and curriculum structure as it relatesto the First Amendment.

"When it comes to freedom of speech, students are oftenshortchanged," said Ken Paulson, executive director of theFirst Amendment Center, a sponsor of the initiative. "I believein time this project can make our nation stronger."

Paulson cited a 2001 survey conducted by the First AmendmentCenter that showed 65 percent of Americans feel schools do a "fairor poor" job educating students about the First Amendment.

These findings and other concerns led the First Amendment Centerand the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Developmentto create the initiative last fall. The schools participatingin the project include:

  • Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy, Washington, D.C.
  • Federal Hocking High School, Stewart, Ohio
  • Harmony School, Bloomington, Ind.
  • Hudson High School, Hudson, Mass.
  • Lanier High School, Jackson, Miss.
  • Butler Middle School, Salt Lake City
  • Center City School, Salt Lake City
  • Northwest Middle School, Salt Lake City
  • Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Logan, Utah
  • Fairview Elementary School, Modesto, Calif.
  • Nursery Road Elementary School, Columbia, S.C.

Each school will receive a $12,000 grant that can be renewedfor two additional years for a total of $36,000. In addition,the schools can obtain resources and services from the First AmendmentCenter and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Some schools, such as Federal Hocking High School and HarmonySchool already emphasize student freedom of expression and planto use the project to review and strengthen their efforts. Otherslike Lanier High School hope to use the grant to create new endeavors.

Ouida Atkins, a world history and humanities teacher at Lanier,said the inner-city school lacked the resources or motivationto engage students in a democratic setting. She said the school’sselection in the program would change that.

"Right now we don’t have a school newspaper," Atkinssaid, "but I hope to create an environment to provide studentswith an outlet such as journalism."

The primary goal of the project is to encourage students totake an active role in democracy by emphasizing the First Amendment’sfive freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

The project is limited to 11 schools at the moment, said SamChaltain, the program’s director for the First Amendment Center, butit could be expanded in the future.

Learn more about the First Amendment Schools project at our previous coverage.