Edward M. Kennedy Institute Launches New Educational Programs to Deepen Student Understanding of How Congress Works


BOSTON – The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is launching two new educational programs that will allow students to more thoroughly understand how government works and experience how finding common ground plays an important role in legislating effectively. The programs – Pathways to Citizenship and Conference Committee ­– provide the opportunity for students to craft an immigration bill and form a piece of joint legislation working with both chambers of Congress. Through these programs, participants step into the role of legislators to experience the types of real-life challenges in creating a bill that can secure enough votes for passage and enactment.

“We are pleased to expand our educational programs for students and highlight how negotiation and compromise are essential to the government’s function and productivity,” said Mary K. Grant, president of the Institute. “We know that students who experience Pathways to Citizenship and Conference Committee will come away better prepared to engage in democracy through civil and creative conversation.”

The Pathways to Citizenship program is offered to fourth through eighth-graders, and assigns students to build a piece of legislation that defines a pathway to citizenship for four groups of undocumented immigrants: DREAMers, farm workers, refugees, and a general undocumented population. Through the program, students step into the role of legislators and work in sub-committees to determine criteria for each group’s pathway to citizenship, a process that models the evaluation of legislative provisions necessary to build a bill. This program offers a timely opportunity for students gain a deeper understanding of a critical public policy issue driving national debate.

The Conference Committee program, developed in collaboration with the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program, is customized for 11th and 12th-graders and focuses on building the skills of legislative negotiation. The two-hour simulation puts students in the role of a member of the Senate or House of Representatives engaged in Conference Committee, the process Congress uses to reconcile differences the two chambers may have on a bill. Students consider issues of policy and learn fundamental concepts of negotiation that Senator Kennedy embodied throughout his time in the Senate, such as identifying the core interests of others, developing political empathy, and using creative means to find common ground. In the first installment of Conference Committee, students will grapple with the Agriculture Act of 2014 (the “Farm Bill”) and the issues of farm subsidies and food assistance programs.

These new programs build upon the extensive collection of civic learning opportunities the Institute already offers, including the award-winning Senate Immersion Module (SIM), the Senator-in-Training Tour, and several programs for college students. The Institute’s programs are offered at no cost for all Massachusetts students, and are in line with Common Core curriculum and Massachusetts standards. Teachers or groups interested in participating can learn more at emkinstitute.org and make inquiries via studentgroups@emkinstitute.org.

About the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the important role of the Senate in government, encouraging participatory democracy, and invigorating civil discourse. Through interactive exhibits, immersive educational offerings, and engaging programs in both Boston and Washington, D.C., the Institute engages students and visitors in a conversation about how each person can affect change at the community, local, and national levels. Learn more via emkinstitute.org.