Citizenship Counts

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Find out about an Arizona organization started by a Holocaust survivor that focuses on teaching students what it means to be a good citizen.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow is citizenship day, a day to celebrate and honor the signing of the constitution 227 years ago. Producer Shana Fischer introduces us to an Arizona-based nonprofit dedicated to teaching children what it means to be a good citizen.

Shana Fischer: As a way of celebrating constitution day, teachers in Arizona and across the United States are encouraged to teach a lesson on civics.

Alysa Cooper: These are the basic lessons that teach you how to be a citizen of not only your classroom, in your community, but as a country.

Shana Fischer: Alyssa Cooper is the executive director of Citizenship Counts. The nonprofit provides teachers at no cost lesson plans and activities about civic duty. Topics include voting, volunteerism, and jury duty. But part of their approach also includes a meaningful hands-on project.

Alysa Cooper: We create an opportunity for schools or other educational groups after-school programs to be able to host a naturalization ceremony on their school campus or at a local community venue. And by doing so, the students not only get to witness this special incredible act of someone becoming a citizen, but they also get to participate.

Shana Fischer: Gerta Weissmann Klein is the founder of Citizenship Counts. She says starting it was a way to give back to the country that embraced her after the horror she went through.

Gerda Weissmann Klein: I was 15 years old, living in Poland when the world I knew and loved and was a part of was irrevocably destroyed when the Nazis overtook our town. It was living first in the ghettos, then the slavery, concentration camps, I lost my entire family.

Shana Fischer: She was force in addition a death march with 4,000 other women. She was one of only 120 to survive. She was liberated by a U.S. soldier named Curt Klein. They would marry a year later in Paris and eventually move to the United States. In 1948, Gerta became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Gerta Weissmann Klein: In my case, when I got my American citizenship, I would tell you that aside from my family, and my family is my most treasured possession, the next thing is my American passport.

Shana Fischer: Both Gerta and Alyssa say their main hope is that students take away the idea that the duties of citizenship last a lifetime.

Alysa Cooper: I think we tend to focus more on what our rights are, and sometimes forget about the responsibilities. And to me the main responsibility is giving back and being an active member of the community and participating in the processes that make our country exist.

Gerta Weissmann Klein: My hopes and my dreams for the future of our country, and of the American people in feeling the pride in our young people of what our country stands for.

Ted Simons: If you would like to learn more about Citizenship Counts, visit their website at That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

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