Civic Education

Celebrating Washington's Civic Educators

In classrooms and community organizations around Washington, civic educators are at work laying the foundation for new generations of engaged citizens. 

Meet some of the people doing this important work!  Know an educator you'd like to honor?  Tell us about them here.


Civic Educators of 2017

Keith Altenhof

Newport High School, Bellevue

Susan Bergman

Todd Beamer High School, Federal Way

Marty Cole

Naselle Youth Camp, Naselle

Thomas Condon

Marshall Middle School, Olympia

Jan Klein

4-H Know Your Government, Spokane

Lisa Lockwood

Central Elementary School, Ferndale

​Corey Paulson

Open Window School, Bellevue

​Matthew Phillipy (profile coming soon)

Marshall Middle School, Olympia

David Westberg

Lakeview Hope Academy, Lakewood


Civic Educators of 2016

​Steve Hamilton

Capital High School, Olympia

Patti McMaster

Evergreen High School, Vancouver

​Jim Hendrickson

Tukes Valley Middle School, Battle Ground

​Jennifer Muscolo

Pacific Middle School, Des Moines

Linda Myrick

Somerset Elementary School, Bellevue

Todd O'Connor

St. Louise Parish School, Bellevue

​T.M. Sell

Highline College, Des Moines

​Brigitte Tennis

Stella Schola Middle School, Redmond

​Mike Wilson

Cascade Middle School, Everett

Gretchen Wulfing

Tahoma Middle School, Maple Valley

Keith Altenhof, Newport High School, Bellevue (2017)

Tell us about your educational and professional background.

I earned a BA and M.Ed. from Colorado State University, completing all studies in 2004.  I taught for two years in the Poudre School District, Fort Collins, Colorado. In those two years I taught quite a few different classes including German I and German II, World Geography, and Speech.  I moved to Seattle in 2006 to take a Social Studies teaching position at Newport High School in the Bellevue School District (BSD).  Upon landing, I taught American Government, Contemporary World Affairs, and World History for my first four years in BSD.  I enjoyed teaching Geography and worked hard to introduce AP Human Geography at Newport High School in the fall of 2009.  Since then, I have continued to teach AP Human Geography and World History.

Was there a specific person or event in your life that helped define the importance of education for you?

Two such people come to mind immediately.  The first is my high school English teacher, Mrs. Loretta Williams.  As a teacher and mentor, she pushed me to think critically and examine music, art, and literature not simply as entertainment but as works of social commentary that provided insight on the human condition.  A second person is my college advisor, Dr. Bill Hervey.  Through conversations in his office and seminars in our Senior Capstone Course, he inspired me to view our democracy as a living entity, requiring active and educated citizens taking part in the political process to function successfully.

What strategies, activities, or resources do you find useful in teaching World History & AP Human Geography?

The most important strategy for me is to build relevancy into my instruction. I do this by challenging my students to utilize an investigative approach whenever possible. Another exceptional tool at my disposal are the beautifully diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds my students embody. This has allowed me the ability to enrich their learning experience by utilizing such an important component in my instruction. 

What are some of the challenges you encounter when teaching World History & AP Human Geography?

My biggest challenge is making ancient history relevant. This requires interesting techniques on my behalf that present students the opportunity to walk in the shoes of ancient peoples and civilizations. Another significant challenge in AP Human Geography is getting students to think critically about their world, inspiring them to understand where and why certain phenomena occur. 

What is the most rewarding part of being an educator/mentor?

I received a letter from a former student thanking me for teaching him about beauty of our world and the interconnection of cultures and people. He also thanked me for challenging him; for setting high standards and teaching him the skills needed to be successful. The most rewarding part of teaching lies in this area, "to provide students with a global understanding of humanity and to build students' capacity for success in high school and beyond."

Profile by Rowan Kelsall, Senate Intern from The Evergreen State College

Susan Bergman, Todd Beamer High School, Federal Way (2016)

Susan Bergman has been a civic education teacher at Todd Beamer High School for the past 14 years. She graduated from University of Portland in 1985 with a BA in Education and from University of Puget Sound with a MEd in Education Administration in 1995. Inspired by Judge Dave Larson and former House Representative and Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest, Susan decided that she wanted to motivate her students to become more involved in government. She believes that "education is more relevant for students when they are actively engaged and taking part in the actions." Therefore, she created a civics course at Todd Beamer High School that teaches and encourages her students to become involved civically in their communities, both locally and globally.

As a civic education teacher, Susan has organized numerous events for her students throughout the greater Seattle area each year. Susan is also very involved in the state legislature by inviting speakers to her class and having her students take part in the Page programs in the House and Senate. Some of her favorite events include WE Day Seattle, for which she has volunteered with about 100 of her students for the past five years, and Civic Action Projects, where students engage in research to identify areas of need and create plans that are viable and integral to the sustainability of a community. Furthermore, her students organize and implement many community needs drives at their school and contribute to the homeless shelters and food banks on a consistent basis. Last year the city hosted a 5K Color Run that was all achieved by the students. They raised over $6000 for Free the Children, and the students felt that their actions really mattered.

Important resources Susan finds useful in her class include the state and federal government websites, as well as civic education websites such as and She also utilizes school and local resources such as newspapers, The Economist magazine articles, and other relevant articles that help students understand civic and social issues facing the world.

Yet the road to successful civic education is not always smooth. The time constraints in local government don't always give students enough time to achieve their intended goals, often resulting in disappointment. Even though at times it may be hard to spark interest, it is rewarding for Susan to see her students' passion on issues they care about. "I love the energy that surrounds their actions because it is something that matters to them and they want to see something happen, or they want others to know about an issue and get involved themselves." Susan cares deeply about her students and the work she has done as a civic educator is exceptional.

Profile by Troy Chen, Senate intern from UW Seattle

Marty Cole, Naselle Youth Camp Chaplain (2017)

Chaplain Marty Cole is an honored civic educator because of his commitment and empathy for young men experiencing difficulty with the law. Chaplain Cole works at Naselle Youth Camp, a medium security youth detention facility that houses as many as eighty-one kids. The camp focuses on rehabilitation, and Cole plays a vital role in training the boys to become productive members of society. Cole spends approximately twenty hours with the youth every week. He conducts Bible studies, question and answer sessions, and organizes social or spiritual meetings for both the students and the staff.

His transformative mentorship today stems from a mentorship of his own. Cole’s father passed at a young age, leaving Cole without guiding figure. As a youth, Cole was arrested six times as a drug dealer. He was run out of town, and forced to flee to his sister in Montana. A visit with a past Sunday school teacher provided the grace that changed his life—and the lives of countless other young men. Cole spent a year working for the Sunday school teacher who became a consistent father-figure in his life. In this time, Cole gained not only plumbing skills, but also the inspiration to pursue a career in ministry. Cole went to school to become a chaplain, and thus serves his community today.

Chaplain Cole’s mentorship succeeds within a challenging rehabilitation model. The students are under custody of guards and are forced to comply with rules. Cole’s task, he feels, is to speak to the heart and “to give them the truth. I am not here to rehabilitate the youth, but to regenerate the thinking in their hearts.” For Cole, cultivating faith guides the young men think and behave constructively.

Cole’s service extends after the youth leave the camp, as he meets with as many young men as possible. The low recidivism rate of graduates from Naselle is evidence of Cole’s warmth, compassion, wisdom, and occasional tough love. Cole’s dedication to public service ripples outward in the careers of his mentees. Many of these young men go on to be gainfully employed with the state of Washington. But for Cole, who describes it as “humbling to have anyone recognize the effort of serving others,” the rewards are more than economic.

“It’s watching their eyes light up when they get it. In Bible study—when dealing with hard things like inequity and illegality, the grace of the Gospel changes everything for them. When they take ahold of that, they literally begin a transformational process that no education alone will bring.” With a commitment to service that exemplifies the values of both his faith and his citizenship, Chaplain Cole leads by example as a role model for young people to engage positively with the world.

Profile by Juliana da Cruz, Senate Intern from UW Seattle

Tom Condon, Thurgood Marshall Middle School, Olympia (2017)

Mr. Tom Condon teaches science, service-learning, and civics at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Olympia. He earned his undergraduate degree from Western Washington University, and then joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Mali.  After two years of service in the Peace Corps, he returned to the U.S. to pursue a Master’s in Education at University of Maryland while serving as a Shriver Peaceworker Fellow. He cites his experiences in the Shriver Peaceworker Program as the inspiration for his decision to commit his life and career to creating positive social change.

Mr. Condon founded the Citizen Science Institute, Thurgood Marshall Middle School’s alternative education program, which has received statewide publicity and acclaim. CSI’s mission is to develop youth leadership in science and civic literacy through field-based science investigations and action projects. Projects this year include seasonal bird counts at the Billy Frank Jr. National Wildlife Refuge, Bull Trout migratory tracking on the White River through a partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife educational outreach program, and service-learning leadership roles in Marshall Middle School’s Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Speaking about his work as an educator, Mr. Condon says: “There is nothing more rewarding than to see on the faces of our students and in their written words the realization that their actions matter. To be an agent of social change at 12 builds the foundation of a life worth giving. All students, whether aware of it at first or not, seek to be a part of something bigger than themselves. To provide students an opportunity to give back to their community is very rewarding to me as a civics teacher.”

Profile by Nicole Bembridge, Senate Intern from UW Seattle

Jan Klein, 4-H Know Your Government Statewide Program Coordinator, Spokane (2017)

Jan Klein began her career with the 4-H Know Your Government (KYG) program as a volunteer. During her volunteering, she realized how much of the state government she did not understand. Jan chose to immerse herself in civic education and to learn about government through the teen civics program. Being involved in the program challenged and encouraged her to continue educating youth on civic engagement and the political system. Jan has had the pleasure of working for Washington State University’s KYG extension program for twenty years. She began with Spokane county (8 years) and then transitioned to the state branch (12 years), serving as the Washington State 4-H Adolescent Leadership Specialist.  

KYG has many other locations around the state as well as other extensions co-operated by universities around the country. KYG has proven success through its hands-on learning model. In addition to a four-year rotating curriculum that high school students can choose to take, a mock component engages the students and allows them to apply their knowledge. Mock commences at a local level, where students prepare for the statewide conference in Olympia. In this final project, students engage in mock trials, and have the opportunity to participate in the following activities: lobby for a bill, develop a party platform, support a candidate, produce a press release, or participate in live news. The purpose of the four-day event in Olympia is to bring high school students from across the state together, to share ideas, concerns and to learn about how Washington State Government operates.

For Jan Klein, the KYG program’s holistic approach to hands on learning is the reason for its success. She has witnessed the program influence countless students to become better individuals. In Jan’s words, “The focus is on civics but the outcome is development of life skills.” The collaboration that occurs between students teaches them that they can listen to both sides of an issue in a respectful and non-threatening manner. They have choice to leave the table with the same ideas they came in with, there is no obligation to adopt new perspectives if they do not align with current viewpoints.

The most rewarding part of being a civic educator for Jan has been seeing the growth in high school students. She describes a three-step process. First is seeing teens excitedly engage and discuss their views on civic topics. Second is to see students positively interact with the civic process in Olympia. Third is seeing youth give back to the community through service. “I have the confidence that many of the youth who have participated in our civics program have the skills, attitudes, and knowhow to practice positive citizenship.”

Profile by Ricardo Franco, Senate Intern from UW Seattle

Lisa Lockwood, Central Elementary School, Ferndale (2017)

Lisa Lockwood has been an elementary school teacher in the Ferndale School District for over 25 years. Currently, she teaches the 5th grade at Central Elementary School and helps lead an after school Student Council she pioneered there. As an undergraduate student, Lisa attended several colleges and universities including Augustana College South Dakota, Anchorage Community College, ultimately receiving her undergraduate degree from Western Washington University. She graduated with a master’s degree in teaching from City University, although she is aiming to graduate (Professor Lockwood) from Harvard one day!

One of Ms. Lockwood’s other passions in life besides teaching is through civic education and engagement. From a young age, Lisa was greatly influenced by her parent’s political activism, saying that “as a child I observed the civic process unfold in our house with caucus meetings, planning sessions, and political activism.” Her father for example, organized local caucus meetings in their Wyoming neighborhood. Her parents even decided to leave their hometown church in the 1970’s when female members were banned from voting in church matters. These early experiences propelled her personal interest in politics, highlighted by her involvement in Girls State while in high school.

Today, Ms. Lockwood maintains her own political interests by voting, writing letters to legislators, and attending political meetings at the local, county, and state levels. She has even testified at a public hearing in Olympia, voicing her support of a bill designed to protect children from sexual abusers, a bill that was ultimately signed into law. Lisa wholly believes that one person can make a difference in civics when they stand up for what they believe is right, even when they stand alone. She carries this mentality into her teachings at Central Elementary and their Student Council program.

Under Ms. Lockwood’s tutelage, Central’s Student Council allows students to learn about how U.S. politics work at various levels, and how they can create their own influence within the political system. Lisa has slowly perfected the program’s structure using both national resources (e.g. We the People Social Studies materials) and knowledge she gained from her attendance at the Olympia Legislative Scholars program last summer.  

At the forefront of the Student Council’s philosophy is the mantra, “to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.” Too often, Lisa says, citizens do not engage civically to make the political change they want, but rather simply complain about their situations. Lisa’s students challenge this notion by working to create the political change they wish to see. In the next few months, her students hope to convince local officials to build a needed sidewalk leading up to the school’s campus. In the words of a student, “I am so glad to be a part of this genuine and fun group. You are such a great teacher and I definitely look up to you. Thank you Ms. Lockwood!”

Profile by James Markin, House Intern from the University of Puget Sound

Corey Paulson, Open Window School, Bellevue (2017)

Corey Paulson has spent the last 14 years teaching young people in Washington and California. Currently a resident of Bellevue, WA, Corey teaches 8th Grade Humanities at Open Window School, also located in Bellevue. She graduated with a BA from the University of Washington with a major in History, and a minor in English. Corey refined her interest in American history and culture at the University of Colorado Boulder Graduate School. When asked about her background, Corey said, "I studied Civil Religion, researching how American ideology has been shaped by the ideals in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution."

Like so many students, a gifted teacher inspired Corey at a young age. Abigail Huntly taught Corey in 10th and 12th grade. Ms. Huntley's interdisciplinary Environmental Science and Public Policy class was formative for Corey's teaching style, and later became a model for her own civics lessons. She takes a creative approach to civics, using technological tools like iCivics and the school's Maker Space to help kids develop technological skills within a civics framework.

Corey believes in a multifaceted, hands-on approach to education. She has been very active in student engagement with civic organizations in the Seattle area, like UW's School of Urban Planning and city council members. The judicial system is one of the most complex aspects of government, so she uses To Kill a Mockingbird and the Landmark Cases to teach kids using a combination of technical and fictional literature.

Teaching civics presents a number of unique challenges. The amount of time students have to internalize important concepts is very limited, especially considering how complex government can be. Corey must also keep a close eye on current events, so that she can discuss them evenhandedly in the classroom. Despite these challenges, she finds the work to be incredibly rewarding. For Corey, as with many teachers, the true payoff comes when she sees the kids learn and grow. "When I see students in class or during lunch discuss the Constitution and the ideas of Federalism, I know that they will make a positive difference in the world."

Profile by Connor Tibke, Senate Intern from The Evergreen State College

David Westberg, Lakeview Hope Academy, Lakewood (2017)

Many teachers have a profoundly positive and lasting impact on their students, but some are particularly unforgettable. Mr. David Westberg of Lakeview Elementary School is one such teacher, according to his former student Maria Ramos who now works at the Washington state capitol.

Ramos had Mr. Westberg as a social studies teacher for third, fourth, and fifth grade. She calls herself “really lucky” to have been in class with Mr. Westberg for three consecutive years. He has a unique teaching style, one that incorporates the textbooks, historical and political discussion, and a fun points system with gold stars. He also has a monthly raffle to keep students motivated and give them something to look forward to in class.

According to Ramos, Mr. Westberg pulls on his military background in his teaching, which informs his classes about the ways in which international policy can shape the world, and inspired many of Ramos’s peers to pursue a military career. Mr. Westberg’s ability to relate individual decisions to world impacts helps his students understand the power of a single person. Ramos recalled the way Mr. Westberg handled the tragic consequences of 9/11. In third grade at the time, Ramos learned from Mr. Westberg the historical context and current events that contributed to the attack. He encouraged them to think critically at a young age, which Ramos says helped her understand the role she can play through civic engagement in shaping our country’s policies.

Ramos also notes that Mr. Westberg teaches many at-risk youth and has students from low-income backgrounds. He encourages them to be excited about school and to know their own worth and potential, despite the many challenges they may face. Ramos says Mr. Westberg inspired many of her classmates to pursue careers in the military, government, and education because of their time in his classes, where they first learned of the opportunities they could access. Today, they remember and honor Mr. Westberg, who continues to make a difference in the lives of young students every day.

Profile by Hannah Howell, Senate Intern from Whitworth University


Steve Hamilton, Capital High School, Olympia (2016)           

 Tell us about your educational and professional background.

I received a Bachelors in History from University of Portland 1996, and Teaching Certificate from St. Martin’s University in 2005. I have been teaching for 10 years, including World History, US history, Current World Problems, and Civics. I have strived to keep my teaching modern and in touch with the current attitudes and interests of my students. I have received training in Big History, an evidence-based way of teaching World History. Civics is new to me in the last two years, once the state law took effect. I have worked to identify curriculum that engages the students to learn and have them be informed citizens with clear understanding of how the democratic system works, so they can learn to be a part of the system versus a bystander. I continuously seek out resources to improve my ability to teach civics to my senior students.

Was there a teacher or an experience in your life that got you interested in the importance of civic education?

I would say my mother, a teacher herself, encouraged and promoted me to have live experiences with our nation’s history, such as trips to Washington, D.C. and encouraging me to be a committee clerk at the Washington State Legislature for two sessions in the late 90’s. These experiences and ongoing support from my mother’s legacy, encouraging my curiosity in all things, is at the core of why I teach students to understand the world in which they live and be a part of it.

What strategies, activities, or resources do you find useful in teaching civics?

The citizenship test helps my students to understand the lack of knowledge they have about our civic duties as a nation. Some states require passing this test in order to pass civics. I have done pre- and post-tests using this citizenship exam to demonstrate my students’ growth and increased understanding of the democratic system. It is enlightening to see students do poorly and have them have the realization that they in fact are unable to pass this test, motivating them to increase their knowledge base. I do Current Event Fridays, where they choose a topic they are interested in and do a Socratic seminar on current topics that really interest them. These discussions develop their skills in listening to arguments, providing evidence for support, and opening their minds to alternative ideas and thoughts.

What are some of the challenges you encounter in civic education?

There is significant lack of support in locating and identifying good curriculum. It is hard to work getting past the traditional view of civics, of memorization and “dry” knowledge; instead I strive to make civics relevant to present day lives of teens. Engaging students to learn is key, no matter the subject.

What is the most rewarding part of being a civic educator?

To see students know very little about our democratic system initially. Students come in with traditional attitudes passed down from their families and hearsay from society’s propaganda and what the media pushes.  Instead, I see them realize that government is of the people and not separate. We are the government as citizens. It is not a force to be reckoned and fought but rather to be a part of and identify it as “us,” we the people.

Patti McMaster, Evergreen High School, Vancouver (2016)

Evergreen High School social studies teacher Patti McMaster has been teaching for nearly forty years, but her interest in civics and government goes back even further. Growing up in Pasco, she credits her own history teachers, including Jeff Dong and now-State Representative Sam Hunt, with inspiring her “love of the Constitution.”  She also belonged to a politically active family: “so our dinner conversations growing up were always interesting and I was dragged to more political rallies than I can count!”

After graduating from Gonzaga University with a BA in History, she began teaching in the Vancouver area. Over her decades of experience, she developed a hands-on approach to involving students in learning about government.  “The struggle is always the same,” she says, “how to find and provide RICH opportunities for kids to get involved in the community. When they experience government in a real setting, they become much more engaged. I use a variety of strategies, but whatever you do, it needs to be REAL." 

Patti works with a wide range of civics programs to give her students that real-world experience, including We The People and TVW’s Capitol Classroom. She has also participated in numerous trainings and institutes in Washington and around the world, including in Russia and Ireland, to hone her own skills as a civics educator. She also requires that her students get involved in their own communities, by attending local public policy meetings and working or volunteering on campaigns and service organizations.

She says that the most rewarding part of her career as a civics teacher is seeing students take what she has taught them and put it to use in their adult lives.  “I currently have former students who are living what they learned: one works in the White House, one at the Department of Justice, one at the State Department, one in the Irish Parliament. Several are Legislative Assistants to members of Congress, some are managing political campaigns, and several are attorneys or in Law School. One of my happiest and most rewarding moments as a teacher was being invited to watch while one of my students was sworn in to the Washington Bar!”

Jim Hendrickson, Tukes Valley Middle School, Battle Ground​ (2016)

For the last 20 years, Jim Hendrickson has taught a variety of 8th grade classes in the Battle Ground School District. He currently teaches integrated Washington State/U.S. History courses infused with Civics, Economics, Writing, and Social Studies contents. Hendrickson resides in Washougal with his wife Julie and four year-old son River Silas. Hendrickson obtained his B.A. in Education from Western Washington University. From there he was given the opportunity to study at Oriel Collee, Oxford, where he researched the use of community resourced in the teaching of social studies. Hendrickson also holds a Master’s of Science in Content Area Learning and Literacy from Walden University. Congratulations to Jim for being nominated for Civic Educator a second time!

Hendrickson states that his father had an immense role in sparking his interest in Civic Education. “When discussing content regarding the election process and the importance of voting, he merely listened and then said, “There is more to being a good citizen than just voting,” says Hendrickson. “As my career progressed, I gradually began to understand that father-to-son conversation.  It rings through my mind each year when I approach civic education.  Community service, jury duty, voting, contributing (be it time, talents, or resources), enlistment, and for some running for elected office are all important cogs in the democratic process.  Citizenship includes speaking out for what you believe and defending it, not merely with emotional rhetoric, but with reasoned logical arguments backed by concrete examples and relevance.”

Although Hendrickson says he has taught Civics in many ways, he mainly bases his teaching directly on the Constitution. “We debate compromises made during the Constitutional Convention as a primary focus of student learning and we draw comparisons between the structures of government at our federal, state, and local levels.  I am a big fan of primary source documents to support instruction and am thankful for the wealth of historical content now at our fingertips beck-and-call.”

Hendrickson states that one of the greatest challenges of the jobs is keeping the students interested. “When you are in the 8th grade, voting age still seems like an eternity away.  One challenge is to build enough excitement about the democratic process and hope that spark survives until high school teachers have opportunities to rekindle it.”

When asked what the most rewarding part of being a Civic Educator is, Hendrickson said that it is knowing you are serving your country and its prosperity. He has had three former students that have lost their lives in Afghanistan and makes it a point each year to recognize those individuals and what they gave to us so we can have freedom.

Profile by Katie Kincaid, Senate Intern from WSU

Jennifer Muscolo, Pacific Middle School, Des Moines (2016)

Jennifer Muscolo is a 7th and 8th grade teacher who began her career teaching science, and gradually shifted to instruct Health and Leadership classes for Pacific Middle School in Des Moines. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiological Sciences and continued on to earn her Master’s degree in Public Health from San Diego State University. Jennifer credits her mother for the shift in her academic interests, as her mother worked for years within the civic sector to overcome family adversity. Her mother exemplified a strong and hardworking woman who used her voice as a writer to right a civil wrong.  

The key to Jennifer’s success is to allow students the autonomy to choose which proposed bills in Washington they want to research and analyze. She has urged students to get in direct contact with their legislators, and holds that the only way an individual can learn how the real world works is by just going and doing it. She keeps politics out of the classroom, but aims for her kids to find bill topics that they are passionate about. She cites one of the most common problems attributed to analyzing legislation is first, the lack of funding, but secondly the general confusion regarding the real-life process by which an idea actually becomes a law. She insists that kids just have to go out and try things for themselves.  Once they do, they understand that they are powerful, and that they have a voice.

Profile by Kathran Dean, Senate Intern from WSU



Linda Myrick, Somerset Elementary School, Bellevue (2016)

Linda Myrick of Bellevue, WA has been teaching 4th grade at Somerset Elementary School for the past five years. After thirteen years in sales and part-time endeavors, Linda returned to teaching and school at the age of 42, working as a substitute with several local school districts, and enrolling in a Master's degree program where she received an M.A in Curriculum and Instruction. With the support of her principal and students, Linda created the only Elementary Civics Club in the state, becoming a part of TVW's Experiential Education program, Capital Classroom. Representative Tana Senn describes Linda as "an amazing role model, inspiration and advocate".

Tell us about your educational and professional background.

After graduating from Hiram College with a B.A. in Elementary Education, I joined V.I.S.T.A. (Volunteers in Service to America) to spend a year working on a project in Houston, Texas, and then taught for 6 years in the Houston Independent School District.  After having my first child, I left teaching. I signed up to substitute with local school districts and subbed for a while and decided to pursue my Master's Degree, I was hired by the Bellevue School district and have worked there since 1997. In 2009, I pursued and received my National Board Certification and was recruited to join the Core Leadership Team for National Board teachers in Washington. I applied and was accepted into the Legislative Scholars Program in the summer of 2014.

Was there a teacher or an experience in your life that got you interested in the importance of civic education?

Teaching with Representative Ross Hunter was a true highlight of my career in several ways.  We took students through the legislative process in a simulation of the action in Olympia.  Students chose an issue, wrote a bill, and took on the roles of citizens, legislators and committee members to act out a committee hearing and floor debate.  Representative Hunter also followed the action through emails with our class. He surprised the students with a return visit, playing the governor who could either sign or veto the bill. It was an experience the students will never forget! 

What strategies, activities, or resources do you find useful in teaching civics?

Participating in programs such as the Legislative Scholars program and the Civics Education program, having the support of Principal Tara Grey, and the experience of involvement at all levels is one that I am privileged to share with my students.

What are some of the challenges you encounter in civic education?

Not enough hours in the day.  Focus on Common Core State Standards and state assessments has the effect of sometimes squeezing out other areas of great value in the development of students. 

What is the most rewarding part of being a civic educator?

Being involved in the growth of young citizens of the state of Washington, sharing in their enthusiasm, guiding them in strategies for success in being heard. 

Profile by Jaleesa Smiley, House Intern from WWU

Todd O'Connor, St. Louise Parish School, Bellevue (2016)

Todd O’Connor has been teaching junior high school social studies at the St. Louise Parish School in Bellevue, WA for 17 years. During these years he has inspired his students through rigorous examination and crucial analysis of history and politics. He credits St. Louise with giving him freedom in his lessons and Principal Dan Fitzpatrick for affording him “a platform for solid civics instruction” which has allowed Mr. O’Connor to better impart his skill and knowledge upon his students. He approaches each day with enthusiasm and rigor.

From a young age, Mr. O’Connor wanted to bring his passion for culture, politics, and philosophy— something he says his parents had always fostered in him—to the classroom. He comes form a working-class family but both parents nurtured what he calls, “an appreciation for intellectual pursuits and the value of education.” With this strong foundation, Mr. O’Connor graduated from Western Washington University’s education program and further enriched his credentials with a degree in humanities from Seattle Pacific University. He believes this mix of education directly informs his lessons and what he conveys to his students.

As many do, Mr. O’Connor employs the use of PowerPoint presentations, class readings and the like. However, what distinguishes him from the pack is the emphasis he puts on group discussion, synthesis of information and the application of critical thinking skills. He doesn’t demand the simple regurgitation of facts and dates of his students but rather the deep, underlying causes, effects and implications of a given scenario. To Mr. O’Connor, it’s about immersing the student in whatever topic he’s teaching and actually showing them that they have a stake in its outcome. In turn, the ultimate satisfaction he derives from being an educator is to know that he’s contributing to the “preservation of our culture long beyond [his] own mortality.” It goes without saying that he takes his job seriously.

From his perspective, social studies and humanities in general are grossly undervalued in our technologically dominated society. “The social studies are our identity as a civilization, our roots as a culture,” he says. Getting his students to “understand that this knowledge and participation in the civic process” gives them power and a means to shape their own future is his most pressing task. He hopes that each student can take historical events and the teachings found within them and go forth to make a difference themselves.

Profile by Joseph Pejovic, House intern from WWU

T.M. Sell, Highline College, Des Moines​ (2016)

Since the first election he can remember, Professor T.M. Sell has had a special interest in politics and government. He now shared that interest with students at Highline College, where he has been teaching since 1996.

He uses his courses in political theory, government and economics as an opportunity to engage students in civics and show them what government looks like in action. Sell brings students to Olympia to experience state government in session, along with having a wide range of state and local officials into his classrooms. He encourages students to be involved in elections and become familiar with legislative processes. Professor Sell knows that the best way to be informed is to get involved. He encourages students to go into their community and learn through service, by helping citizens register to vote and raise funds for local initiatives.

Being a civics educator is not without its struggles, especially in today’s political arena. Sell says that “In an era when candidates regularly run for office by arguing that government is the enemy and ‘the problem,’ if students think anything about government, it's bad. When, in fact, it works remarkably well.” This has not stopped Sell from imparting knowledge to students in the hopes that they leave his class understanding that government works, and there is a role for students to play in it and in their communities that can have a positive impact.

Professor Sell holds a Master’s in Public Administration from The Evergreen State College and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Washington. He has also taught for Central Washington University and was a visiting professor at Shanghia Jiao Tong University. Sell spent almost twenty years as a journalist and legislative staffer. He plays an active role in his community and has been relied on to moderate candidate debates in South King County.

Professor Sell's work goes beyond simply providing information. His dedication to preparing students with a well-rounded civic education before they exit his classroom is exceptional.

Profile by Claira Rolfson, Senate Intern from UW Bothell

Brigitte Tennis, Stella Schola Middle School, Redmond (2016)

Brigitte Tennis teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Stella Schola Middle School, a school she founded, in the Redmond School District. Brigitte graduated from the University of Washington in 1981, and graduated from City University in Redmond with her master's in education in 1991. For the past 14 years she has taken her students to Washington D.C., where they learn civic education first hand. She is fluent in English, Swiss, German and Latin.

Was there a teacher or an experience in your life that got you interested in the importance of civic education?

Three specific experiences started me on the path of civic education. First of all, being a child of two naturalized Swiss citizens, my parents impressed upon me the importance of loyalty to country and the privilege of participating in the governmental process.  My 11th grade U.S. history teacher, Mr. Jake Rufer, was a retired Navy man and his passion for government was contagious!  He encouraged our class to find problems in the city which we - as teenagers - would like to have solved, and then to begin writing to the local legislature with a solution.  Finally, as a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), I have invited many legislators into the classroom to co-teach with me, and have been pleasantly surprised at the eager response I have received!

What strategies, activities, or resources do you find useful in teaching civics? 

To make teaching civics useful I need to make it relevant.  This means not only teaching students about our history and the way our government works, but also that they, too, have a voice and a responsibility to participate in it.  Having legislators into the classroom empowers students because they know that their legislature cares about what they think. Teenagers love to debate, so I use that knowledge to teach the rules of order and debating procedures to my students and then I create opportunities for them to participate in mini-debates.  I also take my students to the local courthouse to watch a live case, usually about a traffic violation because that is of most interest to them at this age. By watching a real trial and speaking with the attorneys and judge afterwards, students can see that everyone really wants justice to be prevail and that all stakeholders have equity in the courtroom (and that it's usually not like what they see on television).

What are some of the challenges you encounter in civic education? 

Probably the biggest challenge is helping students feel that civics is relevant even though they are not of voting age yet.  By taking my 8th graders to Washington DC for a week and immersing them in the history they have been learning, their hearts begin to stir with patriotism. By integrating history with civics, students begin to understand the foundations of our government and their responsibility to uphold the Constitution and to participate as a responsible citizen.  Students talk about their trip to Washington DC for many years after we have gone so I know it makes a big impact.

What is the most rewarding part of being a civic educator? 

Helping students find their voice, and especially when they take up a cause which affects more than just themselves.  For example, when we perform a day of service at Hope Place, a women's shelter, students are greatly moved to champion the women who are trying to pull their lives back together from abuse/drugs/prostitution.  They hand out valentines to the women, listen to their stories, prepare and serve lunch for them, clean rooms, pick up garbage, paint, and give themselves completely in the spirit of service.  Speaking not only for themselves, but speaking on behalf of others so that everyone has an equal voice is crucial to developing good citizens.

Profile by John Boone, Senate Intern from WWU

Mike Wilson, Cascade High School, Everett (2016)

Mike Wilson has been a teacher for the past 37 years and still “loves it and can’t wait to get to school”. For the past 20 years he has been teaching at Cascade High School and for 15 of those years he has been involved in civic education. 

He uses exciting projects, such as a mock Congress, inviting politicians to his classroom to talk about today’s issues, and debates, to engage his students in their learning. But he goes above and beyond by planning trips to Washington D.C. to see presidential inaugurations, collaborating with multiple schools to create a night where students could come and be heard by politicians and talk about issues ranging from transportation to secondary education to health care.

Working hard to create an active, involved and welcoming environment, Mike has inspired thousands of students to stay politically aware and register to vote. Many students enter his classroom tentative, and struggle with the perception that they don’t count. As Mike challenges this perspective by holding high expectations for his students, they leave ready to do more. His classroom works as a team to support each other and grow together.

Students continue to inspire Mike to stay teaching as he helps them become better decision makers and writers. He pushes his students out of their comfort zone learning to have a productive, enhancing, political conversation. If you turn 18 while you are in Mike’s class he will make sure to find time in the class day for you to register to vote. Mike’s goal is not just to get his students to pass, but help generate a passion for learning. 

While Mike would never want to leave his current classroom, he is one of few teachers who has a golden teaching certificate, meaning he is qualified to teach grades K-12. He has even exceeded expectations by becoming National Board Certified, requiring months of intense independent study. He works with co-teachers to bounce ideas and further his own learning, always finding a new way to learn. Mike is more than a teacher, he is a life-longer learner.

Profile by Hannah Driscoll, Senate Intern from UW

Gretchen Wulfing, Tahoma High School, Maple Valley (2016)

Gretchen Wulfing is a National Board Certified social studies instructor and senior project advisor at Tahoma High School. Wulfing received her Bachelor’s Degree in Arts at the Colorado College, her Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University, and a second Master’s degree in Education from the University of Phoenix. Throughout most of her professional life, Wulfing worked in Washington DC on many Presidential Campaigns and in the George H.W. Bush White House as the Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Services.

Wulfing is the instructor and coach for the We the People program at Tahoma High School, a national competitive program designed for students to apply constitutional principles in order to evaluate and defend position on historical and contemporary issues. Her We the People team has won numerous awards, such as Washington State Champions in 2007 and 2009-2016, 4th in the nation in 2015,  and the Western Regional Award in 2008 and 2014. In addition to We the People, Wulfing has received many educator awards such as the Washington State Civic Educator of the Year in 2011, and Outstanding Educator of the Year, Tahoma High School PTA in 2009.

Wulfing became interested in civic education through her instructors and by working in Washington DC, realizing how critical citizen engagement and civic education are for preserving both freedom and democracy. Wulfing stated how wonderful it is “when the light goes on and students realize their potential impact- that they can make a positive and important difference in our country’s future.” On the other hand, she also grasps how difficult it can be to spread civic education throughout the state when the academic requirement is only half a credit. Regardless, there are many rewards that come along with the joys of teaching civics to our youth. As Wulfing said herself, “It is so inspiring to graduate educated young adults who are excited to engage in the political process in a productive way.”

Profile by Sarai Salgado-Miranda, Senate Intern from WSU



Return to Civic Education Home