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Ben Diamond seeks to boost high school civics education through community projects

His bill would create a new project in U.S. Govt. classes.

Rep. Ben Diamond filed legislation Thursday that aims to improve civics education in Florida high schools. The goal is to increase citizen engagement.

The bill would establish an option for school districts to include a nonpartisan civic literacy project through their U.S. Government curriculum. That project would require students to identify an issue or problem in their community, research the problem and then develop strategies to address it.

The bill (HB 581) would give students the opportunity to supplement U.S. Government education through community service and real-life problem solving.

“Students have traditionally learned civics through textbooks and class discussions,” Diamond said. “Our bill is designed to supplement that work with real-world problem solving. By applying what has been taught in the classroom to issues that exist in the real world, students gain a greater understanding of how to solve problems in their community.”

The bill addresses a problem in Florida. The state is one of the least civically active in the nation and ranks near the bottom nationwide in voter turnout in local elections as well as through attendance at public meetings or in membership through civic groups, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Community service hours completed through the proposed U.S. Government project could be applied toward students’ eligibility for the Bright Futures Scholarship.

The bill would also allow participating schools to be designated “Freedom Schools.”

“Civic participation is fundamental to our American way of life, and our education system plays a central role in preparing young people to become informed and engaged citizens,” Diamond said. “This bill will help our students develop the skills they need to be active participants in the future of our communities.”

Rep. Vance Aloupis is the prime co-sponsor of the bill in the Florida House and Sen. Jeff Brandes is filing companion legislation in the Senate.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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