The First Amendment Museum has been included in a $234,000 Institute for Museum and Library Services, Museums for America grant awarded to James Madison’s Montpelier to collaboratively develop non-partisan programming that encourages a better understanding of the First Amendment. 

“The grant funding enables the creation of non-partisan, civics-focused programming on the First Amendment’s five freedoms–religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition–for educators, students, and the general public,” Jamie O’Brien, chief development officer, said. “Maine teachers will have an opportunity to travel to Montpelier for onsite professional development, followed by opportunities to bring their classrooms to FAM to put that training to use.” 

“This project is part of Montpelier’s Constitution Initiative, a 10-year venture that is dedicated to promoting civic engagement and constitutional learning.”

– Elizabeth Chew, Interim President and CEO of the Montpelier Foundation.
What does the grant entail?

Over a three-year cycle, the two museums will develop programming that inspires and empowers Americans to become more active, better informed and engaged citizens. 

The grant funding enables the two institutions to:

  • facilitate four two-day seminars in Virginia for 100 teachers nationwide, including at least eight teachers from Maine; 
  • develop and implement one-day workshops for 250 Maine students that will teach civics and inform students how to actively engage with their government; and
  • host six “how-to” workshops in Maine with local, civically-minded organizations for the general public. 

Christian Cotz, chief executive officer, previously served as the director of visitor engagement at Montpelier before he moved to Maine to lead the First Amendment Museum in 2020. “As a past developer and participant in Montpelier’s onsite trainings, I know firsthand the level of excellence the staff brings to their work, as well as how meaningful participants find the experience,” Cotz said.

“The collaboration between my talented colleagues here at the First Amendment Museum and the team at Montpelier will yield phenomenal results. My hope is that many of Maine’s social studies, history and civics teachers will take advantage of this exciting continuing education opportunity.” 

– Christian Cotz
Timeline of the project

The four professional development seminars for teachers will take place in the spring and early summer of 2023 at Montpelier. Each seminar will focus on a specific element of the First Amendment and will be led by relevant scholars and practitioners. The programs are offered free to teachers, and those looking to attend can receive travel support and continuing education credits through James Madison University. Planning sessions for the student workshops will immediately follow each two-day seminar and any teacher who wishes to participate longer will receive a small stipend. 

“In the fall of 2023 and spring of 2024, the First Amendment Museum will offer student-focused workshops exploring the historical context of the First Amendment and encouraging students to engage with issues they find important,” Maxwell Nosbisch, manager of visitor experience, said. “These workshops are intended to reach at least 250 Maine students and are expected to happen in-person at the museum, which is an important learning opportunity for Maine students.”

Participating schools will have access to a transportation fund to assist them in covering bus transportation costs. In addition, in the Fall of 2023 and Spring of 2024, FAM will partner with other local, civically-minded organizations to hold six “how-to” workshops for the general public. 

The state of civics education in the U.S.

In 2020, research revealed that only 56% of Americans could name all three branches of government, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Merely 9% can identify all five freedoms the First Amendment protects, according to a recent Freedom Forum study. Such a lack of civic knowledge is a challenge for students and adults and the democracy we all uphold. Over the past 50 years, civics education across the nation has taken the sidelines while projects to improve STEM education procured favor. Yet, data confirms that 94% of Americans deeply value the First Amendment, viewing it as “vital.” Another 84% said they were interested in learning more about the Constitution, according to The Montpelier Foundation. These upcoming teacher and student training programs will be designed to meet these needs. 

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