Thousands of South Dakota school students are "voting" their views on current political issues while learning about the democratic process, and also electric cooperative principles, through a civic education program supported by the state's electric cooperatives.
Said NRECA CEO Glenn English, "This project uniquely combines three of the co-op principles – education, the democratic process and concern for community – to build strong, informed leadership for both our government and our cooperatives."
More than 80,000 students participate in Kids Voting South Dakota, a non-profit, non-partisan program that provides a hands-on experience intended to foster future generations of informed and engaged citizens and leaders. Through a combination of classroom instruction, family dialogue and a mock election mirroring the federal election, Kids Voting South Dakota provides a comprehensive educational experience for students to learn about the democratic process and the importance of being active citizens.
When Kids Voting South Dakota had an opening for more curriculum components, the electric co-op leaders grabbed the opportunity to incorporate an outreach section on electric cooperatives and the democratic process under which they operate. Teachers present information to students about the cooperative business model and the value of being cooperative member-owners.
SDREA and its members helped develop lesson materials on the not-profit purpose of electric cooperatives and their corporate structure, the co-ops' member focus, and the role of member-owners.
"Our association with the rural electric cooperatives has been absolutely awesome," said Patty Pearson, director of Kids Voting South Dakota. "They are huge supporters. They're always there when we need them ? we've become partners."
SDREA and its member cooperatives have been strong supporters of Kids Voting South Dakota and have developed a popular and productive fund raising opportunities for the program. The state's electric cooperative managers sponsor a golf tournament to benefit the program and SDREA and its member cooperatives sponsor the "Liberty Ballgame," a basketball game featuring state legislators, to raise funds to pay the local fees for students to participate.
South Dakota electric cooperative officials say that offering an electric cooperative component as part of a civic education program is a natural fit, and promotes awareness of electric cooperatives among the community's and nation's future leaders. South Dakota electric cooperatives believe the far-reaching impacts will be felt when the students eventually become electric cooperative members and leaders.
SDREA received the award at the NRECA annual meeting. More than 11,000 representatives from cooperative electric utilities across the nation are attending the meeting, which convenes March 20-22, at the Las Vegas Convention Center, during which they will set NRECA's legislative and organizational agenda for 2007. In addition to considering and acting upon policy resolutions, delegates receive reports from NRECA officials, hear addresses by key public figures and business experts, and attend panel sessions on major issues affecting electric cooperatives and their consumer owners.
NRECA is the national service organization that represents the nation's more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 40 million people in 47 states.