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Coalition Report Release


March 7, 2022

CONTACT: Jen Patja Howell
Co-Executive Director, Virginia Civics
[email protected]

Virginia Civics Coalition Releases Comprehensive Report with Recommendations to Improve Civic Health in the Commonwealth

March 7, 2022

Orange, VA – Today, the Virginia Civics Coalition released its Virginia for All Virginians report with recommendations to improve the civic health of the Commonwealth. Over the last year Virginia Civics, in partnership with the Virginia Commission on Civic Education (VCCE), set out on a “listening tour” with experts, practitioners, and consumers of civic education and engagement across the state. 

VA Civics, along with professional facilitators from The Spark Mill in Richmond, led discussions with a broad range of Virginians involved in some aspect of civic education. In these discussions, VA Civics focused on what worked well in their civic education efforts, what had not worked well, their goals, and what resources they needed to continue and expand their efforts. This work was supplemented by a survey of public high school students’ experiences with civic education, conducted by the Virginia Department of Education and Virginia Commonwealth University, completed in September 2021. 

“We spoke with such a broad cross-section of civic educators in Virginia that we weren’t sure how much common ground we would find, especially in such a divisive political climate,” said Jen Patja Howell, co-executive director of VA Civics. “But almost immediately, we saw some themes and shared principles emerge. What this coalition really wants to do is to help build a Virginia where everyone has a voice.” 

The report includes recommendations for state and local entities to foster an atmosphere of strong civic engagement. Some of the recommendations included are:

  • States should work with divisions to determine clear guidelines for civic education that are both effective and measurable, including strengthening course requirements and clarifying performance-based assessment objectives.
  • Divisions should consider implementing a school culture that values and prioritizes good citizenship and civil discourse. 
  • The state can provide guidelines and/or incentives for higher education institutions and employers to recognize/incentivize civics diploma seals.
  • The state should consider developing a comprehensive “road map” for successful civic education at all grade levels.

“The key to a functioning and healthy democracy is an educated citizenry,” said Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, a public school civics teacher and Chair of the Virginia Commission on Civic Education. “While our civic education system in Virginia has its strengths, it is my hope in the coming years the General Assembly and the Commission on Civic Education will use this report to sponsor initiatives and programs that encourage more engagement for both students and adults. I want to thank the Virginia Civics Coalition and Virginia Civics for spearheading this effort.”

Work on this project was funded by iCivics through a regrant of funds from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which have renewed funding for an additional year of work toward strengthening the Virginia Civics Coalition and making progress on the report’s goals. Over the next year, the Coalition plans to formalize its structure through regular meetings of its “communities of practice” and hold its first all-member Coalition conference in November. 

The full report can be found here


About Author

Jen Patja

Emily Voss

Emily Voss comes to civic education from the museum world, where she was passionate about making museums relevant to the modern world. She currently serves as the Manager of National Programs for the Center for Civic Education. Prior to that, she served as the Education Director at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier where she spent the past decade developing programs for adult professionals that invited engagement with America’s founding documents. She served as the Virginia State Coordinator of the We the People program for 10 years and is a co-founder of Virginia Civics. Emily holds a BA in History from Gettysburg College, and an MA in Museum Education from the Cooperstown Graduate Program (SUNY). She and her family currently reside in central Virginia.

Co-Executive Director & Chief Programs Officer

Jen Patja

Jen Patja has dedicated her career to strengthening constitutional self-government through her work with Virginia Civics, the Center for Civic Education, and Montpelier’s Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution, where she served as Deputy Director. Jen is a co-founder of Virginia Civics, and serves as a House of Delegates-appointed member of the Virginia Commission on Civic Education, a state legislative commission. She is the producer and editor of “Rational Security,” a weekly foreign policy and national security roundup, and “The Lawfare Podcast,” a daily audio production in cooperation with the Brookings Institution. Jen has held teaching and research positions at the University of Virginia, most notably in Criminology and the school’s University Internship Program with the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. She received her master’s in Sociology from the University of Virginia, and a bachelor’s in English from the University of California, Berkeley.

Co-Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer

Amelia Bochain

Amelia Bochain has devoted her professional life to effective social studies education that fosters civil discourse. As a classroom teacher for nine years, she implemented project-based learning that focused on civic engagement and encouraging effective discussion skills. She is particularly passionate about the We the People program, where she coached teams that placed in regional, state, and national competitions.

State Coordinator