Close Up’s High School Program curriculum is designed to inform, inspire, and empower students to become more active citizens. For over forty years, we have been dedicated to this mission. This mission and inspiration comes from a commitment and understanding of the importance that civic education plays in the health of our democracy and in the lives of each student.

A National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement study in 2012, found that students who participate in civic learning opportunities are more likely to “persist in college and complete their degrees, obtain skills prized by employers and develop habits of social responsibility and civic participation.” The study goes on to say, “Today’s education for democracy needs to be informed by deep engagement with the values of liberty, equality…and the willingness to collaborate with people of differing views and backgrounds towards common solutions for the public good.”

Despite this clear need for students to be civically engaged, Charles Quigley, Executive Director of the Center for Civic Education, suggests that the United States is in the middle of a “civic recession”. Consider the following data from a 2010 survey from the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress:

  • Only 24% of high school seniors scored at the proficient or advanced level in civics
  • Over 35% of high school seniors scored below the basic level in civics
  • Half of the states surveyed no longer make civics a requirement for graduation.

At Close Up, we work each week to help students gain a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities as an American citizen. Our goal is to inspire and engage students in the political process and challenge them to return home ready to become more civically active and politically aware. This helps not only build our democracy, but the student’s sense of self-worth, efficacy, and ability to work with others.

The 2012 National Task Force study concluded that “full civic literacies cannot be garnered only by studying books; democratic knowledge and capabilities are also honed through hands-on, face- to-face, active engagement in the midst of differing perspectives about how to address common problems that affect the well-being of the nation and the world.” No other program in Washington, DC can offer the type of peer-to-peer interaction and hands-on education that Close Up provides. For over 40 years, we have relied on time-tested, academically-rich methods to reach students from all walks of life.

Our Methodology

Close Up’s methodology infuses education for democracy into every moment of a student’s week and creates an experience that is truly transformational - not only during the week they participate on program, but for the rest of their lives. The citizenship skills, attitudes and dispositions that they learn and practice on Close Up help strengthen their participation in their communities, schools and government when they return home. Our teaching methods include:

  • Multi-Partisanship: We don’t tell participants what to think; instead, we give them the opportunity to discuss a variety of current public policy issues and engage speakers and each other in discussion and debate.
  • Variety of Sources: We use primary sources, onsite study, and a comprehensive curriculum design that allows students to learn content, practice skills and develop the democratic dispositions that enhance their efficacy as citizens.
  • Diversity: Students are immersed in discussions and debates throughout the week during their workshops with their peers and their roommates from around the country. The environment is rich in diversity of thought and opinion and allows students to experience a living and learning environment similar to college.
  • Hands-On Learning: Cooperative learning techniques make sure that every student contributes to the discussions and activities of each day. Students are given ownership over many program components so that they can practice and apply the skills they are learning.

Our Instructional Staff

We set very high standards for our Program Instructors and take pride in the work that they do each week. Our Program Instructors are not just contracted tour guides. All are required to hold a Bachelor’s degree, pass a series of interviews and a criminal background check, and take on a rigorous 90-hour training in our methodology before working with students. We coach and observe them regularly and all of our Program Instructors undertake an additional 40 hours of professional development each year to stay current with the best practices in the field of civic education. Experiential education is a challenging field and Close Up has honed our skills to improve student experience each year. Instructors are knowledgeable and skilled in encouraging each student to participate to their fullest potential while on program and to help them return home more informed, inspired and empowered citizens.

Safety and Security on Student Program

Program Leaders and Instructors ensure that students are safe and accounted throughout the Close Up program. Attendance is taken at each component and transfer; additionally, all components are mandatory for students. In the evening, Night Monitors conduct room check and remain in the hotel hallways from 10:00 pm until 6:00 am to ensure student safety. Close Up Student Needs Assistants facilitate access to medical care with Georgetown University Pediatrics during the day. In addition, our staff is trained in CPR and First Aid for emergency situations. We take the safety and security of each student very seriously and work to maintain a safe and positive environment for students throughout the week to encourage their personal growth.

Teacher Program

At Close Up, we believe that hands-on learning is not just for students! Close Up’s one-of-a-kind Teacher Program offers teachers the opportunity to dig deep into all of the resources the DC area has to offer so that they can hone their skills, network with other teachers, find new materials to support their classroom instruction, and come home with new ways to engage their students. The Teacher Program runs parallel to the student program each week. Our specially-trained Teacher Program Specialists lead teachers through a variety of experiences designed to strengthen their practice and build and deepen content knowledge. Teachers hear from speakers each week on topics ranging from First Amendment rights to foreign diplomacy. Teachers can also elect to take advantage of partnership workshops offered by other educational organizations like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Archives and the United States Institute for Peace. Additionally, participating teachers may opt to spend a day at sites such as Monticello, Manassas or Antietam Battlefield, Fort McHenry, or Lincoln’s Cottage to gain appreciation of the politics and history surrounding those famous sites. Continuing Education Units are available to participants on Close Up’s Teacher Program.


"I personally am going home totally inspired as a teacher. I realized this week there are not many people doing this work. It is is tough and exhausting, but we have to stay energized because it is essential for the growth of our democracy."

   – Ted, Teacher, CA
Educating for democracy since 1971