Civic Life Project teaches lifelong skills; goes virtual

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

CORNWALL — As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Civic Life Project has gone virtual.

The 10-year-old nonprofit organization teaches civic engagement to middle school students throughout Region 1, Torrington and across the state. It’s incorporated into the students’ civics history class curriculum.

As part of the project, students choose a story, an issue in their community or one they are passionate about. They then conduct research and interviews to create a four- to six-minute video.

According to Dominique Lasseur and Catherine Tatge, Civic Life Project founders and executive directors who are also Emmy-award winning documentary filmmakers, students learn lifelong skills such as team building, deep listening, and how to write.

One of the goals is to give young people “a sense of how exciting it is to be involved in your community and understand what’s going on,” Tatge said.

The virtual program began this month at Cornwall Consolidated School and Kent Center School. Prior to the pandemic, Lasseur and Tatge visited schools and worked in classrooms from twice a month to as often as once a week. However, they have since been teaching completely remotely due to COVID

“During the entire period, we are online. Dominic teaches the kids online while they are in the classroom. Those students who don’t feel comfortable going back in light of COVID, Zoom into the program from their homes,” she said, adding the students will present the videos to their community.

Recent topics students have chosen for the project include “The impact on climate change on Northwest Connecticut,” “Local protests related to Black Lives Matter,” and “Young people suffering from eating disorders.”

“Each of these issues will be placed in the context of the COVID crisis. Students will reflect on how their work/life has been impacted and how the people they interview have been affected and how they had to adapt to the crisis,” Lasseur said.

In their training on how to create virtual interviews, students learn about making sure the scenery behind them looks presentable, and the importance of checking sound and video quality beforehand. Additionally, prior to their interview, students send a video with tips to the interviewee.

“It’s good to send simple tips that people don’t necessarily know about, such as making sure the room you are in is silent and there are no dogs barking or kids screaming,” Lasseur said. “The greatest issue is to insure that the people they interview follow the guidelines so that they are framed properly, their eyes are level with the camera, and the sound is OK — that’s been the challenge.”

For more information on the Civic Life Project, visit