Education — League of Oregon Cities presents its Civic Education Award to sixth-grade teachers for their work with the Design Star program

Having received in April the American Planning Association’s 2013 National Planning Excellence Award for Public Outreach for its Design Star program, employees at the city of Newberg’s planning and building department thought it was only fair they share the limelight.

The department partnered with seven local sixth-grade teachers in Newberg for the program, which prompts students to think critically about community planning, but with the award coming from the APA, the focus was much more on the city planners.

That’s why department head Barton Brierley nominated the instructors for the League of Oregon Cities’ Civic Education Award, which was given to Mountain View Middle School’s Linda Buck, Heather Bryant, Mike Alpert and Tom Willing (retired), Wendy Halstead and Connie Rice of Chehalem Valley Middle School and C.S. Lewis Academy’s Dave DeHaven.

All but Rice and DeHaven were on hand to receive the accolade Sept. 28 at the LOC’s annual convention in Portland.

“Our name was on the earlier awards even though they do a whole lot of the work,” Brierley said.

“It was really good to see them be recognized for their efforts.”

LOC communications director Kevin Toon said that not only is the award typically given to an individual, not a group, but that it is only given out when “a deserving recipient emerges,” this year being just the fourth since 2002.

“I think part of the motivation in creating it was there is seemingly less emphasis on civics in schools,” Toon said. “So, we’re looking to recognize and spotlight efforts that are being made to educate about local government at that age range. It seems to be fewer and farther between, so these kinds of efforts are rare and that’s philosophy behind recognizing them.”

Between the three schools and seven teachers, nearly every sixth-grade student in Newberg participates in the program, now in its seventh year.

Newberg Assistant City Planner Jessica Nunley and Geographic Information System (GIS) Analyst Jan Wolf present information about the city, how it is planned and organized and how different types of land is used for housing, jobs and parks.

After follow-up lessons on civic and planning concepts with their teachers, including city wants and needs, environmental interactions, the positive and negative effects of development and job creation, groups of students were tasked with formulating a plan to develop one of two separate parcels of land in Newberg.

The students then presented their project ideas in class, with a few winning groups advancing to present to the city council.

“The Design Star project gives students a hands-on, real world experience that requires critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity and citizenship skills,” said Superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza. “It takes skillful, quality teachers to integrate these components into meaningful learning and develop engaged citizens of the 21st century.”

Brierley said he has noticed that in addition to engaging the students in local government, the program’s push for civic participation often cascades to a second generation of Newberg residents.

“I’ve had several parents say the first time they ever came to a city council meeting was when their kid was presenting their Design Star project, which is a pretty neat thing,” Brierley said. “They come to the city council meetings to see the presentations and get a good idea of how cities work and the kinds of things city planners, city councils and mayors have to look at when considering how a city grows.”

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