Solving a problem, two freshmen awarded for work on civics act

By Jarrod Thacker

Joining the ranks of those such as Elvis Presley and former President Ronald Reagan, two UK students were awarded the highest civilian status in Kentucky on March 3.

Journalism freshmen Gary Hermann and Lindsey Austin were given the honor of Kentucky Colonel by Kentucky Secretary of State Elaine Walker for their involvement in the drafting of the Henry Clay-Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Education Act.

Their work is the product of a Project Citizen initiative established by the Kentucky Advocates for Civic Education to address Project Citizen is a national movement in which students address a public dilemma and attempt to solve it.

UK Journalism Professor and KACE board member Buck Ryan said he was inspired to create this “super” Project Citizen when former Secretary of State Trey Grayson noticed that the “I’m Just a Bill” Schoolhouse Rock segment no longer adequately described the legislative process since lobbyists are not represented in the video.

“I proposed that we ask kids to draft a bill, modeled after the Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Education Act that passed last year in Florida, and then lobby for it as an innovative way to teach civic education.” Ryan said.

The Henry Clay-Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Education Act proposes several different ways to help reintroduce the study of civics into grades K-12 and public post-secondary institutions.

Under the guidelines of the bill, some changes include dedicated civics classes that would be required at various grade levels, in addition to mandatory three-hour community service at the high school level.

However, the purpose of drafting the act was not as much providing a catalyst for change, but rather being a learning experience for students.

Hermann and Austin worked with students from Lexington schools Tates Creek High School and Christ the King School and used their opinions in the creation of the bill.

Austin, who writes for the Kernel, said they repeated this process several times.

“By including local school children in the legislative process, they get a hands-on experience of it and an even richer educational experience,” Austin said.

Hermann, who also writes for the Kernel, said they were awarded their titles while lobbying for sponsorship in Frankfort with students from Tates Creek High School and Christ the King School.

“I was actually taking photos of the other people receiving the title of Colonel when I received mine,” Hermann said. “I heard that Patrick Keal, special assistant to the secretary of state, had been working on making us Colonels, but I didn’t know I was getting the award for sure until my name was announced.”

Kelley West of Christ the King School, Jennifer Fraker of Tates Creek High School and Buck Ryan were also given the title of Kentucky Colonel for their roles in the bill.

The 8th and 9th grade students who joined them in Frankfort were awarded special “ambassador” honors.

In addition, the group also took home the support of State Senators Kathy Stein and Alice Forgy Kerr, who announced they would co-sponsor the Henry Clay-Sandra Day O’Connor Act composed by the students in the next legislative session, which should occur next fall.