The COVID-19 school closures beginning in March 2020 led to a scramble to adjust for many school districts and partner organizations. Constituting America faced these challenges head on, quickly assessing the ways in which we could continue to help students all across the country. We were well-positioned to transition into online education - we have been providing Constitution education via Skype and other video conferencing tools for the entirety of our 10 years as an organization. Of course, the COVID crisis created many unique challenges for us, even as a primarily virtual tool. How do we reach students whose schools were not well-equipped to begin virtual learning shortly after the closures began? How can we reach as many people as possible - students, teachers, and interested citizens alike? How can we continue to meet the expectations of donors and longtime friends of Constituting America when the normal foundations of our programming had been completely changed overnight?
Our first move was to assess what schools and districts we had speeches planned with during the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, and meet with the individual teachers to see how we could provide effective assistance to their new normals. We assessed new online tools, moving to Zoom so that we could most easily connect to our broadest audience. We spent hours creating new projects better suited to a completely-online audience. Then, in just one week, we were ready to go with our new/improved programs!
First, we prepared to help educators with their new online classrooms. Once online schools got up and running, we were still able to make 47 classroom presentations to over 1,700 students through the end of the school year. These speeches cover the rights protected by the Constitution, how to use First Amendment rights to make a change in their communities, and understanding the history and virtues set forth by our founding documents. Angelina Martin, a high school social studies teacher with whom we collaborated to bring to cover a full day of her social studies classes said, “When COVID-19 moved my classes online, Constituting America didn’t miss a beat. They graciously met with each of my classes over a two day period, accounting for my A/B block schedule. I am grateful my students were given this opportunity.”
In addition to continuing to deliver our school speeches, we also created the Constitutional Chats & Founding Documents Forum podcasts, which we broadcast live via Zoom webinars and distribute to all major podcast platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, and Libsyn. These podcasts are hosted by a panel of Constituting America co-Presidents Actress Janine Turner and Cathy Gillespie and National Youth Board members Tova Love Kaplan and Dakare Chatman. Constitutional Chats covers a variety of topics, focused on breaking down the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and other founding documents, and applying the founding principles to current events and hot topics that are interesting to both adults and youth audience members. Some of these topics have included the COVID school closures, a potential ban on TikTok, the Federalist Papers, mail-in and absentee voting, school choice, NASA and SpaceX collaborations, and more. We record 1-2 podcasts per week, and bring on industry leaders and Constitutional experts to discuss these topics with our panel and our audience. We have broadcast/recorded over 50 Live Zoom webinars, with over 2,000 live attendees, and thousands more listeners across the podcasting platforms.
We have also adapted our annual Constitution Day celebration to be completely virtual this year, creating a day-long webinar that will feature student “We the Future” Contest winners, along with Janine Turner and Cathy Gillespie, hosting workshops on how the Constitution applies to their varied interests for the future, including STEM, filmmaking, art, singing and songwriting, writing, oration, and more. This Constitution Day celebration will be held on September 17 via Zoom webinar, and broadcast live to our audiences on Facebook and YouTube.
Though adapting our operations for COVID-related changes has been an ongoing process with challenges, Constituting America has always been an organization that is constantly innovating and up for a challenge! The importance of Constitutional education and raising a generation of informed and involved citizens doesn’t stop because schools and clubs aren’t meeting in person, so CA didn’t stop simply due to that obstacle either. We are excited to see how these programs can continue to grow during the beginning of the new 2020-21 school year, and how our streamlined online presence will position us for even greater success in the future.