Elena Tipton – was inaugurated in January of 2016 following a November 2015 statewide election. Credit: Contributed photo

Kid Governor, a nationally-recognized civics program for fifth graders that started in Connecticut, has gained such a following that it is now being introduced in Oklahoma, the fourth state to offer it since elementary students in Connecticut elected the first Kid Governor in 2015. 

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy will start the program with the 2022-23 school year. It joins Oregon and New Hampshire in taking on the program created by the Connecticut Democracy Center to teach fifth-graders about state government, elections, and civic engagement. Since 2015, there have been 16 Kid Governors between three states.

“It’s a really great way to reach students about civics and to reach students at the age of 10 or 11,” Brian Cofrancesco, director of the Kid Governor program, said. “A lot of students don’t get civics or civics education until high school. We think that is late in the game.” 

Exposure to an election, listening to campaigns, and casting votes will help prepare children to engage in the real thing when they reach 18, Cofrancesco said. The Kid Governor campaign is timed to coincide with Election Day in November. An Advisory Committee of civics and education professionals choose seven out of a pool of candidates, with a winner chosen by registered classes who watch campaign videos and then vote.  

“It’s more than just a program,” Cofrancesco said. “It really is a movement in civics education.”

The first Connecticut Kid Governor – Elena Tipton – was inaugurated in January of 2016 following a November 2015 statewide election. 

“The most memorable thing I would say about being Kid Governor is that the program taught me to be unapologetically myself,” Tipton said. “My confidence grew so much from when I was elected to the end of my term and going into sixth grade.” 

Tipton is now 17, and is preparing to enter her senior year at East Hartford High School in the fall. 

Tipton recalled addressing an audience of 1,000 people who attended the 2016 Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. 

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Tipton said. “The program taught me to go up there, be myself, advocate for what I believe in and don’t look back.”  

As Kid Governor, Tipton’s platform was “Campaign for Kindness.” Tipton also promoted “Buddy Benches,” which are placed at elementary schools to help students form friendships by sitting on the benches when they want someone to play with. 

According to the Kid Governor website, Elena’s campaign played a role in bringing Buddy Benches to elementary schools in South Windsor, Newington and Fairfield. The East Hartford Rotary purchased 11 of the benches for that town’s elementary schools. 

Tipton also wrote a blog as part of her duties, titled “Kindness is Kool,” where she would give kindness tips. She designated the 13th of every month as “Kindness Day,” and asked kids to let her know what kind things they did. 

“People were doing these little acts of kindness throughout their day,”  Tipton recalled. “They made an impact, which was my main goal.”

Tipton said being Kid Governor taught her how to be a leader. “That really impacted me throughout high school, to not be timid in group settings.” 

At East Hartford High School, Tipton works with freshmen through a summer leadership program. 

Cofrancesco said program coordinators never would have anticipated that the Kid Governor program would have grown at the rate it has.

“We launched it as a pilot program,” Cofrancesco said. 

The free Kid Governor program is a way to reach students anywhere despite cost or distance, Cofrancesco added. 

“We provide teachers with all of the resources and lessons and activities and worksheets that they need,” Cofrancesco said. “We’re very proud of the fact that we don’t charge for participation. We want to remove as many possible barriers to fifth graders being able to vote.”