: A woman and students participate in a mock trial.
At Civic Nebraska’s Capitol Experience Day, Cheyenne Hartshorn (middle), helped create curriculum where students get to participate in a mock trial so they can apply what they learned in the classroom. // Courtesy Cheyenne Hartshorn

Lincoln Northeast High School teacher Cheyenne Hartshorn sees inspiring students as part of her job. 

Hartshorn was recently recognized by Civic Nebraska for encouraging and inspiring students to become more passionate about civics and democracy.

Hartshorn said she has created opportunities for students to take what they learn in class and apply it outside of the classroom — including Capitol Experience Day. 

“I feel like I pour my heart and soul into my job,” Hartshorn said. 

Hartshorn has taught at Northeast High School for 19 years. She teaches ninth grade civics, geography, AP human geography and has also taught senior level government. 

Hartshorn said she believes education about the government and its processes is the first step students can take to create a democracy that reflects their values.

“Young people tend to be the ones least involved,” she said. ”My job is to create a passion in them to be involved so that government reflects their wants and needs and not just an older generations’ wants and needs.” 

Adam Morfeld, founder and executive director of Civic Nebraska, worked with Hartshorn in 2010 to develop Capitol Experience Day. 

Capitol Experience Day allows students to pick a topic that they learned from class or through research and choose a position on it. 

Students visit the capitol and meet with members of the Supreme Court, Legislature and Executive Branch and talk with them about their topic. 

The experience also includes a mock hearing in a real committee room, where students role play senators. 

The experience is open to any Nebraska school that wants to participate. Schools have visited from all over the state, primarily from southeastern Nebraska due to traveling proximity. 

Chloe Patzloff, a sophomore at Northeast and former student of Hartshorn’s, had a small interest in politics and government, but Hartshorn’s classes, along with Capitol Experience Day, led her to start paying more attention and become more passionate on these topics.

After participating in the mock trial, Patzloff said she felt more prepared and confident for real life experiences. She has visited the capitol a few more times since Capitol Experience Day and got in contact with the mayor, who helped answer more questions she had. 

“Coming into second semester of her classes really prompted me, especially with our Capitol Experience Day where I was actually able to speak with the mayor about urban agriculture and sustainability,” Patzloff said.

Patzloff said she also was able to start a Feminist Club at Northeast with help from Hartshorn, who provided suggestions on the direction of the club and helped get grants, materials and supplies for projects. 

“She’s kind of my mom at school,” Patzloff said. ”She’s the best and the biggest supporter.” 

It was that kind of support that prompted Morfeld to nominate  Hartshorn. 

“We choose to honor her because of her consistent support of youth-driven civic engagement and civic leaders,” Morfeld said. “The fact that she was really on the ground floor in terms of educators innovating and trying to get more directly involved in our democracy through the Capitol Experience Day program.”

Morfeld describes Hartshorn as a hands-on and human-centered teacher who wants young people to find their passion about civic engagement and political involvement. 

Hartshorn didn’t start out her career as a teacher, she said, noting that she received a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico and majored in criminal justice. 

“I did social work for a year and decided that I care too deeply to do social work, but I loved my teen parents that were on my caseload and thought that maybe if I went into teaching that I could have an impact before they went into the system.” Hartshorn said. 

She returned to academia to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

Hartshorn was honored at Civic Nebraska’s Strengthening Democracy Awards on April 13, and was introduced by Patzloff. 

She hopes her recognition inspires educators to expand their curriculum and provide real world opportunities. 

“I hope that my recognition inspires students and other teachers to pour their heart and soul into making sure that the things they do in their classroom carries beyond just the curriculum,” she said. 

Alyssa Onnen is a senior at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln studying Journalism, ADPR. She has minors in criminology & criminal justice, psychology, and communication studies. She plans to graduate in May of 2023.