C-SPAN School Buses Teach Students About Government

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"How many of you have ever heard of C-SPAN?"

A smattering of hands went up as Monique Llanos asked middle school students here earlier this month about the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, which is best known for bringing coverage of the U.S. House and Senate to television sets across the country.

While several of the students from Charles F. Patton Middle School said they had heard of the cable television service, most did not watch it or know what it had to offer.

That is the main reason why the Washington-based nonprofit channel conducts nationwide tours using the c-SPAN School Bus: to get the word out about how C-SPAN can be used to teach students about the federal government, according to Ms. Llanos, the organization's guide on the bus visiting the 900-student school southwest of Philadelphia.

One 8th grader was quite impressed with the tour. "I think it's neat seeing how C-SPAN goes to different schools teaching kids about all of this," said 14-year-old Lindsey Thacher. "And it's fun to learn."

There are actually two canary-yellow, customized motor coaches that travel the country during the school year to introduce students and educators to using C-SPAN's public-affairs programming in the curriculum.

Each bus cost about $800,000 and serves as a television production facility as well as an educational-demonstration center. C-SPAN's first bus started traveling in November 1993 and the second took to the road in January 1996.

Among other activities, teachers are encouraged to register on c-SPAN's World Wide Web site at www.cspan.org for "C-SPAN in the Classroom," a program that makes available each month free lesson plans and teaching materials on such topics as how Congress works and how to get in touch with local representatives. Teachers can also obtain free C-SPAN videotaped archives for use in their classrooms.

Aiding First-Timers

The cable service's name is primarily associated with its coverage of congressional floor action and hearings, so it makes sense that the buses also spend time educating people at schools, museums, and libraries about political races and government proceedings.

The 22-ton buses have already been used to help inform students about many of the congressional and state campaigns this year.

During the 1996 presidential season, the buses were used to get high school seniors involved in voting.

The cable service held a contest called "First Vote," in which students were asked to explain how C-span's programming affected first-time voters.

Students could answer the question through writing an essay or a poem, or by creating a Web site, a video, or some other form of artwork. Scholarship money and other prizes were awarded to the students with the best entries.

The aim of the contest, Ms. Llanos explained, was to encourage students to become informed voters.

Special Lessons

C-SPAN was created in 1979 and is privately funded by the cable television industry.

Six cents from each local subscriber's bill goes toward paying for the service, according to Ms. Llanos.

With this funding, C-SPAN, which covers House proceedings, has been able to add two other channels.

In 1986, C-SPAN 2 was added to cover the Senate, and C-SPAN Extra got its start in September 1997 for live coverage of other public-affairs events.

In addition, both C-SPAN and C-SPAN 2 provide live or taped coverage of hearings, conferences, and other events of public interest when Congress is not is session.

Local cable companies are actively involved in promoting the C-span school buses' visits.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, the state's Cable and Telecommunications Association sponsored a student technology showcase last April involving about 50 schools from across the state.

As a part of the event, the group also raffled various prizes for schools, such as software and hardware computer products or a visit from one of the C-span buses.

Robin Martin, the computer and technology coordinator at Charles F. Patton Middle School, won the raffle that brought the bus to her school.

"Some of our 6th grade social studies and government studies teachers use C-span when there are special events," Ms. Martin said.

"So for these students to see how the magic goes from the bus to the TV is really special," she added.

Vol. 18, Issue 4, Page 18

Published in Print: September 30, 1998, as C-SPAN School Buses Teach Students About Government
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