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A Lesson in American Government: C-SPAN visits Frederick Douglas High

Tiffany Ginyard | 12/2/2016, 6 a.m.
Students at Frederick Douglas didn’t know what to expect when they followed their American Government teacher out of the classroom ...
Students’ faces peak with curiosity once aboard C-SPAN’s award-winning, 45-foot customized tour bus fully equipped with a sound-proof live broadcast studio and a mobile newsroom that showcases the network’s programming and resources on social networking and mobile apps. Tiffany Ginyard

— Students at Frederick Douglas didn’t know what to expect when they followed their American Government teacher out of the classroom to a tour bus parked outside.

They didn't ask many questions either. What for? They were only evading a lecture and some class work. It was a Friday. Never mind that the school day had just begun, the weekend was on their minds— Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook too. That wasn’t surprising. They are teenagers.

The young people’s indifferent faces lit up with curiosity once aboard the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network’s (C-SPAN) award-winning, 45-foot customized tour bus fully equipped with a sound-proof live broadcast studio and a mobile newsroom that showcases the network’s programming and resources on social networking and mobile apps.

Once students realized they were more familiar with their surroundings than not, they were comfortable enough to ask Doug Hemmig, a C-SPAN marketing representative, “What’s all this for?”

Frederick Douglas was one of the last stops on the nonpartisan news organization’s country-wide tour visiting middle and high schools, and universities, encouraging students to think critically about the nation’s political climate and issues that affect the communities where they live, work and play. The tour was a particularly unique experience for this group of students. Just two days before, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States of America. And in just two more years, this class of students will graduate from high school and be of age to exercise their right to vote. It is their participation in the political process that will impact how the consciousness of this country is reflected in the White House moving forward.

“They need this,” said Rene Armstead, a long-term substitute for an American Government class at the school. “A lot of the students don’t understand the way our government works, the role of a president. If they did, we wouldn’t have a lot of the anger that we have today. “

Armstead recalled what it was like the day after the election in his classroom. Some students were angry, he said. Many of them expressed their thoughts about the voting process and how they felt their vote doesn’t count for much.

“Its very important that our students understand the nuts and bolts and try to get the whole picture so they can formulate their own opinion,” said Armstead. “Right now they are feeding into the frenzy. And right now we have to get political. Sometimes we get emotional and personal but we have to realize what candidate is going help us politically.”

Hemmig gave an interactive media literacy lesson using mobile devices demonstrating C-Span resources and in-depth public affairs programming and educational resources through touch-screen quizzes on flat-screen monitors mounted to the walls of the bus.

“The best part of my job is representing a network whose mission is to provide citizens unfiltered access to their government,” said Hemmig, who has worked for C-SPAN for 16 years. “I hope students walk away with a resource they can use to follow their government.”

Hemmig navigated C-SPAN’s Campaign 2016 App and the network’s searchable, video-rich site modeling for students how to access every C-SPAN program aired since 1987. The public can access this extensive online collection— over 220,000 hours of public affairs programming— for free, and share user-generated video clips by email and social media.

Rene and other instructors who boarded the bus with their students learned about C-SPAN’s free comprehensive online educational resources including: C-SPAN.org; C-SPAN Classroom; and C-SPAN’s nationwide documentary contest, StudentCam; open to students in grades six to 12.

StudentCam encourages middle and high school students to think critically about issues that affect our communities and nation. This year, students are being asked to create a five to seven minute documentary on this year's theme, "Your Message to Washington: What is the most urgent issue for the new President and Congress to address in 2017?"

The tour officially ends this month and will gas up and hit the road after the 2017 Presidential Inauguration to do it all again.