OC schools are honored for civic education, with Anaheim Union leading the way

Katella High SchoolFourteen Orange County Schools have been recognized by the California Courts system for building exemplary civic learning programs and creating service-learning opportunities.

Katella High and Walker Junior High schools in the Anaheim Union High School District led the way, taking two of the state’s three Civic Learning Awards of Excellence, which is considered the highest honor.

Villa Park Elementary School in the Orange Unified School District won one of three Civic Learning Awards of Distinction, and 11 other local campuses won Civic Learning Awards of Merit, including six more Anaheim Union schools. In addition, Anaheim Union Superintendent Michael Matsuda was named a Champion of Civics.

Statewide, just 32 schools were recipients of 2021 Civic Learning Awards, which were created to celebrate and spotlight public schools that engage students in meaningful civic learning. Now in its ninth year, the program is co-sponsored by State Superintendent Tony Thurmond and California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye as part of her Civic Learning Initiative.

“I’m so proud of these schools for keeping students engaged in civic learning during a pandemic,” said Thurmond, “especially as our country grapples with serious social and civic conversations and actions that can reimagine governance at all levels.”

“In the last year, each of these schools moved their classrooms from campuses to computer screens and, despite that challenge, they’ve kept true to their commitment of engaging students in civic learning,” said Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye.

Orange County schools have a strong history with the Civic Learning Awards program, winning 24 awards in 2020 and 17 the year before. But this year the focus shifted somewhat, rewarding school-based efforts that persisted in the face of a global pandemic.

Katella High School

Katella High was singled out for its “Katella Talks,” which reinforce the 5 Cs of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and compassion. Students identify a challenge they’d like to address, conduct research and present to their classmates in a “TED Talk”-style format.

The initiative, which was created more than five years ago, is credited with improving students’ listening, speaking and writing skills, and this year it was adapted to a remote format.

Katella High School also received a Civic Learning Award of Merit in 2020.

Walker Junior High School

At Walker Junior High, every seventh-grader is required to take a world history class with an emphasis on civics. Students participate in “call to action” campaigns, lead service projects, create public service announcements and participate in student government.

Walker students adapted to distance learning by producing videos and online newspapers to complete their projects. In addition, school administrators incorporated civic learning, planning and implementation in the first goal of their local education plan.

Walker Junior High received a Civic Learning Award of Distinction in 2020 and an Award of Merit in 2019.

Superintendent Michael Matsuda

Matsuda, Anaheim Union’s superintendent, joined three teachers and a community organizer in receiving individual 2021 Civic Learning Awards as “Champions of Civics.”

Michael Matsuda
Michael Matsuda

Matsuda spent more than two decades as a teacher in the district before becoming its superintendent. Throughout his career, he’s earned praise for his work to expand civic education across all grade levels, and it’s paid off — AUHSD schools have won 28 Civic Learning Awards since the program began.

“Our civic engagement work with our young people reaches across the curriculum, reinforcing their identity, connecting their passions with classroom content, and making learning more relevant and meaningful to them,” he said in a statement.

Civic Learning Awards of Merit

Remarkably, of the 26 schools that earned the Civic Learning Award of Merit in 2021, more than 40 percent are in Orange County. They are:

  • Anaheim Union High School, Anaheim Union High School District
  • Ball Junior High School, Anaheim Union High School District
  • Cambridge Virtual Academy, Anaheim Union High School District
  • Chapman Hills Elementary, Orange Unified School District
  • Linda Vista Elementary, Orange Unified School District
  • Los Coyotes Elementary, Centralia Elementary School District
  • Orangethorpe Elementary, Fullerton School District
  • Orangeview Junior High School, Anaheim Union High School District
  • Oxford Academy, Anaheim Union High School District
  • Raymond Temple, Centralia Elementary School District,
  • Western High School, Anaheim Union High School District

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye and State Superintendent Thurmond hosted a virtual meeting on Wednesday with this year’s award winners. The Anaheim Union High School District posted a brief video that included remarks about its programs.

State Seal of Civic Engagement

Meanwhile, efforts to further expand civic learning and leadership continue.

Last fall, the State Board of Education adopted criteria for a new State Seal of Civic Engagement. To secure the distinction, students must exhibit excellence in civic learning, civics-related projects and contributions to their community. They also must demonstrate a robust understanding of the U.S. Constitution, the California Constitution and the American democratic system.

The Anaheim Union High School District recently announced that more than 1,900 of its students are poised to earn the newly created seal, which can be affixed to student transcripts, diplomas or certificates of completion.