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Public TV quiz show brings a little sizzle to civics

Screenshot from KSPS
Teams from Shadle Park High School and the Community School prepare to square off.

KSPS's "Civics Bowl" allows high school students to show off their knowledge about government.

Civics education can be pretty dull if it focuses on facts and dates and not the interesting stories behind them. But a partnership of Spokane interests has found a way to make civics cool.

KSPS's "Civics Bowl" brings intrigue to questions about government and politics.

"How much do you remember from your high school civics courses? Find out on Spokane’s very first televised Civics Bowl," teases host Gary Stokes in his open to the show.

Stokes moderates the program, leading teams from Shadle Park High School and the Community School through a whirlwind of questions.

“All right. Toss up. What is the term length for a Washington state senator?”

Buzz.

“Conor.” (The captain of the Shadle Park team)

“Six?”

“Community School.”

“Four years.”

“Correct. And you get the bonus. How is this different from the term of a U.S. senator?”

The half-hour show, taped at KSPS, matches students from the Community School and the other five Spokane high schools.

Last year, a pilot version aired online, said Dawn Bayman from KSPS and the Spokane chapter of the League of Women Voters. The show’s creators learned a lot about how to structure the match-ups and make the show interesting and keep it running smoothly.

Screenshot from KSPS
"Civics Bowl" producers added a one-on-one segment to quicken the pace of the program.

Then they had to come up with questions.

“What we ended up doing is writing almost 600 questions just in that initial take. The leaguers, everybody had a minimum of 50 that we were aiming for and several of our volunteers came up with over 100, so it wasn’t as hard as you’d think," Bayman said.

For most of the students, Civics Bowl is their first appearance on television.

“We all took it in very different ways. Some showed it more than others, I think, but it was a lot of sitting around, like TV is, and it was still really fun, though. I really enjoyed it for sure," said David from the Community School team, which won its first-round game against Shadle Park, despite the fact that he and most of his teammates have not yet taken a civics class. At the Community School, civics classes alternate years with U.S. history. This is the year for U.S. history.

“We went into this with absolutely no prior knowledge," said David's teammate, Siera.

“Pretty much just what we learned in middle school and then we crammed through the textbooks and flash cards and stuff," said another teammate, Astor.

Their co-coach, David Egly, says the Civics Bowl has an atmosphere of fun and seriousness.

"It’s been cool for the rest of the school to be able to watch our team on TV, have somebody to cheer for. But really, deep down, we’re cheering for knowledge. We’re cheering for understanding about how our society works," he said.

At Lewis and Clark High School, the Civics Bowl students are also members of other academic competition teams, such as Knowledge Bowl, which recently finished its season. Coach Meagan Gomes and her students quickly pivoted from one to the other.

“We read the citizenship test cards and looked up the presidential succession and looked through amendments and some of that basic civics knowledge," she said.

Next year, Gomes and the students expect to be better prepared. Most of them will take civics next year, perhaps with Gomes, who will teach the subject for the first time.

School districts in Washington are required to provide one mandatory half-credit class.

Dawn Bayman from the League of Women Voters would like to see civics taught more and earlier.

“I think a senior-level class requirement is a great start and even that requirement has only been in place for two years and before that it was decades without even that requirement," she said. "This is not to say that teachers haven’t been teaching civics, of course, but it’s kind of wedged into that already overwhelming syllabus of government and everything else.”

But Bayman says students would benefit from more exposure to concepts about government and politics and public life. She says it wouldn’t hurt if their parents also received more civics education. She hopes that’s one of the byproducts of Civics Bowl. It appears the program will be back again next year for a second season.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.