Groups Launch First Amendment Project for Miami-Dade High Schools

"Your First Amendment is Showing" aims to educate students and teachers

People for the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) announced the launch of the Your First Amendment is Showing project today at Coral Gables Senior High School before approximately 600 students, faculty members and invited guests.

Your First Amendment is Showing is a collaborative effort that will work in Miami-Dade schools to educate students, teachers and administrators on their rights under the First Amendment; revitalize students' passion for freedom of expression; and support schools that are committed to beginning a student media outlet or improving the existing one.

The project is an effort headed by PFAWF in collaboration with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Green Family Foundation and The Miami Herald.

PFAWF conceived Your First Amendment is Showing after reviewing the findings of a Knight Foundation study of 100,000 high school students and 8,000 teachers that researched their attitudes toward, and knowledge of, the First Amendment. The survey showed that the vast majority of high school students either admit to taking the First Amendment for granted or do not have an opinion on it. The study, the largest of its kind ever conducted, also revealed little appreciation and a lack of understanding among the participants regarding the "Five Freedoms" guaranteed under the First Amendment. Other results of the study reported that one in five high schools across the U.S. offered no student media opportunities and 40 percent of schools had eliminated student newspapers within the past five years. This was found to be more common in poorer school districts.

In an update to that 2004 study, released last week, Knight Foundation discovered that U.S. high school students know more about the First Amendment than they did two years ago – because they are starting to learn more about it in the classroom. "We see progress, but there's still a lot of work to be done," said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. "If we want America’s next generation to not take our Five Freedoms for granted, teachers and schools are the answer."

"Nothing is more important to our democracy and way of life than the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Our society should be passionate about these freedoms because they embody the basis of what this country stands for," said Jorge Mursuli, vice president for Hispanic affairs for PFAWF. He continued, "It is our responsibility to ensure that future generations have a strong opinion about the First Amendment so that they can continue fighting to defend it."

Mursuli was joined by Dr. Rudy Crew, Superintendent of MDCPS; Knight Foundation's Ibargüen; and Liza Gross, Managing Editor of Production and Operations for the Miami Herald.

The Your First Amendment is Showing project consists of a comprehensive curriculum for the subjects of Social Science, Language Arts and Media Journalism, curriculum-training workshops for teachers, and student mentoring to assist them on how to successfully create and operate an independent media outlet. The project is being incorporated into the Miami-Dade County Public Schools with a goal of expanding across Florida and possibly throughout the country.

The full findings of Knight Foundation's 2006 First Amendment Future survey update can be viewed at www.firstamendmentfuture.org.

Curricula and advice for teaching the First Amendment and starting student media are available at Knight-funded partners: www.teachfirstamendment.org and www.highschooljournalism.org.

People for the American Way Foundation is a national civil rights and civil liberties organization with offices in Miami, Tallahassee, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, New York and Washington D.C.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since its creation in 1950, the foundation has invested nearly $300 million to advance journalism quality and freedom of expression.

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