Citizenship Through Art

Two women looking at a piece of art hanging on the wall of a mother holding her child.

Citizenship Through Art with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas in Overland Park, KS

Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas (CCNEK) was founded in 1956 and provides a broad range of services including emergency assistance, family stabilization, family strengthening, hospice care, healthcare, and refugee and immigration services at a number of locations. In January 2015, CCNEK began their free Citizenship Preparation Program, which includes two levels of courses focusing on English language skills, American history, and civics knowledge to prepare students for naturalization. The organization received the Citizenship and Integration Grant in FY 2014 and again in FY 2017. CCNEK prides itself on the individualized nature of their courses, made possible in part by the support of volunteer tutors. The organization elevates student learning outside of the classroom through two unique partnerships with local museums, where students engage in a four-part “Citizenship through Art” field trip curriculum, viewing relevant artwork and artifacts that provide background on civics knowledge and English language learning. 

The collaboration with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (NAMA) began in October 2015, when CCNEK and NAMA management combined their knowledge of naturalization preparation content, resources in museum educational practices, and the museum’s collection to design the lesson plans. The students visit NAMA three to four times a quarter, where they use flash cards related to the civics topic they are learning in class. The cards have art images on one side and the corresponding civics question on the other. For example, in the Native American Art exhibit, the students come face-to-face with tribal artifacts such as moccasins, drums, and traditional clothing that lead to conversations about Native Americans’ interactions with colonists. Some students find that the experience allows them to relate what they are learning to their own lives. “I liked seeing that American Indians also did farming and hunting like in my country,” said *Aisha, a former student who has since naturalized. In October 2017, a similar partnership was formed with the National World War I Museum (NWWIM) and Memorial. In this partnership, CCNEK is responsible for drafting the lesson plans and facilitating the museum visits with the assistance of their trained volunteers. Beginning in March 2018, students began to visit NWWIM for an insightful lesson into World War I and other related civics content.

The success of these field trips is reflected in the high rate of student attendance, and has led to improved assessment scores in class. The trips also provide students additional opportunities to improve their English language skills through repetition and a deeper understanding of the content discussed on the museum trips. “Their understanding of American history and culture becomes that much richer, which helps further embed the knowledge in their memories and better prepares them for the citizenship interview,” said Debby Adams, a volunteer teacher at CCNEK and a graduate student fellow at The University of Kansas. CCNEK recognized the many benefits of elevating students’ learning experiences through interaction with art and created the U.S. Naturalization Test Study Guide: Using the Collections of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (PDF), which is available for public use. CCNEK hopes that making the materials available to the public will help aspiring American citizens engage in self-study visits to the museum. 

*Student names have been changed. 


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