Taking a lesson from America

Visitors roaming the halls and stopping by classrooms at Joaquin Miller Elementary on Wednesday were not looking for any ordinary school activities ? they were searching for signs of democracy.

A delegation of 12 African educators arrived at the school to observe civic education in action. They looked for it in the books students were reading, the lessons teachers were giving and even in the way students interact.

"It's very interesting to see how young children of this age are taught democracy in their classrooms," said Mam Tamsir Njai, the senior education officer for The Gambia's Department of State for Education.

The delegates, who came from Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mali and Kenya, all hope to return to their countries with concepts and lessons plans they can incorporate in to their own school curriculum.

Njai hopes the lessons will help Gambian citizens understand the rights they have and the role they play in maintaining a democracy.

Even lessons like "Jessica Fish," where a fish learns about her right to privacy, can help citizens understand and learn to demand their rights, he said.

"Civic education is citizenship education," said Fanny Kumah, the curriculum director for Ghana's National Commission for Civic Education. "Once citizens have that knowledge that will inform them to demand accountability from their leaders."

Similar groups have been touring the Burbank elementary school for about 12 years, brought by the Center for Civic Education. The federally-funded center offers workshops to teachers on how to incorporate civic education in to their daily lesson plans. The group also works with educational leaders from developing democracies across the world.

"The great thing is that these are people who can really effect change," said Becky McFarlane, the senior program manager for the group's international programs.

"What we're doing is strengthening the programs that many of them have already started."

Many of the lessons that the delegation observed at Miller had been introduced to the teachers by the Center for Civic Education.

"Miller has really taken advantage of our programs," McFarlane said. "They have an excellent democracy program here and it's nice for the delegates to feel welcome and see the school."

The bands of delegates are welcome at the school, said Miller Principal Judy Hession.

"I think we benefit from it as much as they do," she said. "It's a little glimpse of what other schools are like."

At the end of the tour all the student council members at Miller had the chance to sit down with the delegates and ask them questions about their countries and their schools.

"That is where the airport is," beamed Kumah, pointing out a spot on the globe to a group of students. "Here, the waves are really strong; but you shouldn't be frightened to go to the beach, the guards will take care of you."

Kumah's description of her country made 10-year-old Ashley Basco want to get on a plane.

"The way they explain it kind of urges you to go," Ashley said. "Their main language in the schools is English ? that kind of shocked me."

Karina Miller, 10, was more shocked at the size of their classrooms.

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