Teachers from California, Idaho and Indiana Receive American Civic Education Teacher Awards

BLOOMINGTON, Ind., August 6 — Teachers from California, Idaho and Indiana are recipients of the 2015 American Civic Education Teacher Awards, recognizing their exemplary work preparing young people to become informed and engaged citizens. The ACETA winners are: Jose Flores of Brawley (Calif.) Union High School; Holly Kartchner of Blackfoot (Idaho) High School; and Jill Baisinger of Cathedral High School, Indianapolis, Ind.

The awards are given annually to teachers of civics, government and related subjects who have demonstrated exceptional expertise, dynamism and creativity in motivating students to learn about the Constitution, Congress and public policy.

ACETA is sponsored by the Center on Congress at Indiana University, the Center for Civic Education, and the National Education Association.

Charles N. Quigley, Executive Director of the Center for Civic Education, praised Flores, Kartchner and Baisinger for their dedication to helping young people learn the information and skills necessary to participate as effective and responsible citizens. “We are grateful for all these teachers do to ensure that each succeeding generation understands the principles and values of our representative democracy,” Quigley said.

Lee Hamilton, Director of the Center on Congress, praised the awardees for their “devotion to encouraging students to contribute to community and country. Our political system needs conscientious and enlightened citizens in order to thrive. These teachers are intensely focused on helping students understand and embrace the responsibilities of citizenship.”

Lily Eskelsen García, President of the National Education Association, said, “These awardees inspire us with their passionate commitment to explaining democracy and citizenship in ways that engage and challenge young people. Opening students’ minds to the world around them, guiding them toward an understanding that they can have a say in what goes on in local, state and federal government — this is civic education at its best.”

Each year the ACETA program selects and showcases three teachers whose students represent the diversity of the American public and private school systems. Applicants must be full-time classroom teachers of grades K–12. There is no fee to apply. Applicants must submit a two-page self-portrait essay, their resume, and three letters of recommendation — two from teaching peers and one from their school principal.

The Brawley Union High School where Jose Flores teaches is in Imperial County, a rural, largely agricultural area along the U.S. border with Mexico. The school has a large number of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds who have recently immigrated to the U.S. and are classified as English-language learners. “These students get a hands-on education that goes beyond the classroom,” Flores wrote in his self-portrait essay. “We have formed strong partnerships with our local School Board, City Council, county supervisors, state representatives, local courts, the Court of Appeals, Region 9 E.P.A. and Comite Civico. Students visit their meetings, and they daily read and discuss current events dealing with government at the city, county, state and federal levels.

“The students collaborate, communicate, and think critically. They get involved with local campaigns and service clubs and have branched out to tackle local water, soil and air quality issues. Our motto is: ‘We make a commitment not to be spectators. We get involved by becoming informed, civic-minded individuals who contribute to and improve our community.’” Flores earned a bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University-Imperial Valley, and a master’s degree from Grand Canyon University. He has been teaching for 23 years.

Awardee Holly Kartchner of Idaho wrote that she strives to create a classroom environment that encourages deliberative thought and dialogue. “Students are expected to communicate effectively while applying constitutional principles reinforced with sound legal and historical reasoning….Every day, my government students write a paragraph about a current event or political topic, and then discuss the issue with their classmates. Although students may disagree, or find the subject matter unsettling, hearing alternative viewpoints develops a student’s sense of self in our society.” 

She emphasizes projects that require students to work in groups. “A team working environment allows students the opportunity to gain collaborative skills that are essential in today’s workforce…. It is important to encourage students to establish an inner sense of personal and social responsibility, including productive personal relationships and strong communication skills.” Kartchner’s academic training came at Idaho State University, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in speech communication, and a master’s degree in political science, American history and public law. She has taught at Blackfoot since 2004, and has coached the school’s “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” teams to multiple state championships.

Jill Baisinger of Indiana wrote that she is guided by the principle that “Citizens are the center of our representative democracy, and therefore need to be educated in the philosophies and constitutional principles on which our system of government is founded.” A co-coach of five Model United Nations teams, she emphasizes that “We are not just citizens of the United States, but of the world. Students should be knowledgeable about how the U.S. interacts with other nations.” She has introduced students to the judicial process through mock courts, and created connections between her students and judges, lawyers, state representatives, and other government officials. 

She has been teaching for 15 years — at Cathedral High School since 2010, and before that at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind. Her “We the People” teams at Cathedral and Hamilton Southeastern have won numerous district and state competitions and several times have placed highly in national competitions. Baisinger graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in secondary social studies education, earned a master’s degree in economic and entrepreneurship education from the University of Delaware, and in August will receive a master’s degree in American history and government from Ashland University. 

With the recognition this year of Flores, Kartchner and Baisinger, the ACETA program now has honored 30 teachers since the awards were first given in 2006. The previous ACETA awardees:

David Alcox (Milford High School and Applied Technology Center, Milford, N.H.)

Jim Bentley (Foulks Ranch Elementary School, Elk Grove, Calif.)

Nate Breen (Cheyenne Central High School, Cheyenne, Wyo.)

Sally Broughton (Monforton Elementary School, Bozeman, Mont.)

Christopher Cavanaugh (Plainfield High School, Plainfield, Ind.)

Kevin Cline (Frankton Jr. Sr. High School, Frankton, Ind.)

Cheryl Cook-Kallio (Irvington High School, Fremont, Calif.)

Mary Ellen Daneels (Community High School, West Chicago, Ill.)

John Dickson (Harwich High School, Harwich, Mass.)

Barbara Simpson Ector (Cleveland Middle School, Cleveland, Tenn.)

Jaime Festa-Daigle (Lake Havasu High School, Lake Havasu City, Ariz.)

Kevin Fox (Arcadia High School, Arcadia, Calif.)

Milton Hyams (Incline High School, Incline Village, Nev.)

Cindy Jarrett (Durant Road Elementary School, Raleigh, N.C.)

Tamara Johnson (Kettle Moraine High School, Wales, Wis.)

Julie Kuhnhein (Highlands High School, Fort Thomas, Ky.)

Galelyn McElroy (Central High School Magnet Career Academy, Louisville, Ky.)

Natalie O’Brien (North Smithfield High School, North Smithfield, R.I.)

Richard Ochoa (Alta High School, Sandy, Utah)

Mark Oglesby (Howell High School, Howell, Mich.)

Douglas Oswald (Marion Technical Institute, Ocala, Fla.)

Nancy Peterson (Gilbert High School, Gilbert, Iowa)

Donna Paoletti Phillips (Robert Frost Middle School, Rockville, Md.)

Jennifer Reidel (Lynden High School, Lynden, Wash.)

Sarah Ann Richardson Turpin (Clemson Elementary School, Clemson, S.C.)

Jackie Viana (Hialeah Gardens Middle School, Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)

Gregory Walsh (Falls Church High School, Falls Church, Va.)

About the Sponsoring Organizations 

The Center on Congress (www.centeroncongress.org) is a nonpartisan educational institution established in 1999 to help improve the public’s understanding of Congress and to encourage civic engagement.

The Center for Civic Education is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization dedicated to fostering the development of informed, responsible participation in civic life by citizens committed to the values and principles fundamental to American constitutional democracy.

The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3.5 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.