Oklahoma’s Becomes the Fourth “Kid Governor®” State

OKLAHOMA CITY – For the past six years, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) has sponsored or co-sponsored Oklahoma’s Kid Governor program. Beginning with the 2022-23 school year, the program will expand to be a full Kid Governor® civics program for fifth graders across Oklahoma.

OICA is partnering with the national Kid Governor program, which originated in Connecticut and has expanded to other states; Oklahoma will be the fourth official “Kid Governor®” state to join this effort to educate students about elections and the role of elected officials.

“Beginning with the next Oklahoma Kid Governor®, instead of only a few kids entering a competition, every Oklahoma fifth grader will have the opportunity to participate in a statewide election,” said Joe Dorman, OICA’s CEO. “Even better, Oklahoma’s teachers will have access to an array of materials to help students learn the importance of democracy and the role they can play in it.”

The Connecticut Democracy Center created the Kid Governor® program in 2015 to teach fifth-graders about state government, elections, and the importance of civic engagement. In fall 2017, Kid Governor® became a national program with the launch of Oregon’s Kid Governor®, led by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. In 2018, the program expanded to New Hampshire where it is led by the NH Institute for Civics Education and NH Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. The award-winning civics program has been recognized by the National Association of Secretaries of State, the American Association for State and Local History, and the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies.

The Oklahoma program will officially kick off in August with the beginning of the new school year, and the election will be timed to coincide with Oklahoma’s gubernatorial election this November. Schools will each have the opportunity to enter one student candidate into a statewide election.  A panel will narrow the finalists down to seven candidates that will allow students from each participating fifth grade to vote for who should represent them as the voice of fifth-graders from across Oklahoma.

Toolkits consisting of free, custom-designed lesson plans will guide classroom teachers through the program and teach students about state government in their state, the history and process of voting, and active participation in civic life.  Oklahoma will have a specially tailored video with current and former statewide officials discussing their views of the role of elected officials and why students should be engaged, especially when they turn old enough to vote at age eighteen.

OICA is underwriting the cost of the program, and some big names have stepped up to help the organization raise the money needed for this program. Five of Oklahoma’s former governors – Mary Fallin, Brad Henry, Frank Keating, David Walters, and George Nigh – headlined a kickoff event for the program on Tuesday, May 10, hosted by Governor Walters and his First Lady Rhonda. This and subsequent events will help ensure this program can reach all Oklahoma fifth-grade classes wishing to participate.

“Each of these incredible leaders has invited people to help support this program,” Dorman said. “Any Oklahoman who wishes to join these governors in helping fund the program can learn more at https://oica.org or by contacting our office.”

“It is critically important for our young people to be engaged in the civic process and learn about how our government works from an early age,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt. “I remember meeting Gov. Henry Bellmon on a field trip to the Capitol when I was in middle school, and I look forward to Oklahoma students having similar opportunities all across our state.”

 The program also has the support of the Oklahoma State Department of Education, which will assist in getting Kid Governor® materials to fifth-grade classrooms across the state, including lesson plans to reinforce this exercise in democracy in which the students will be participating.

“Students learn better when they are actively engaged in their learning journey. The Kid Governor® program involves Oklahoma students in all stages of the democratic process, giving them a unique and fun learning experience,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. “It’s a great way to instill a sense of citizenship and public service in young people today.” 

Fifth graders will have the chance to learn about the process of electing officials and the role these leaders play in shaping policy for the state. Those who run for Kid Governor® will create three-point platforms to address those issues they feel are important for youth and make campaign videos. Schools will run Primary Elections to select nominees and each school’s winner will advance a panel that will narrow the results down for the statewide election of seven finalists.

In November, fifth graders will evaluate the online campaign videos of the final candidates, and each will cast their vote for the student and platform they support. The student receiving the most votes serves a one-year term of leadership and advocacy, working with OICA to fulfill their campaign platform and mobilize students to take action and make a difference on the winning campaign issue.

The remaining six finalists will serve as members of the Kid Cabinet, working with the Kid Governor.  The youth who win their local Primary Election, but who do not make the final rounds will serve as the Youth Mayor of their home community, in a partnership between OICA and the Oklahoma Municipal League.

“The Kid Governor® program inspires students to be involved in the process and hopefully lifelong agents of change for the better,” Dorman said. “Only if young people are given the opportunity to learn the lessons of democracy at an early age will they be able to grow into the leaders that will shape our future.”

For more information about how you can help the Kid Governor® program, contact OICA at info@oica.org or call (405) 236-KIDS (5437).