2011 Kevin B. Harrington Award
Sherri Breaux is Awarded the Trust for Representative Democracy's Inaugural
Kevin B. Harrington Award for Excellence in Democracy Education
Sherri Breaux, division director and chief legislative researcher for the Louisiana Senate, is the first winner of the Kevin B. Harrington Award for Excellence in Democracy Education. Sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Trust for Representative Democracy, it will be awarded each year to an individual or organization for advancing the public’s understanding of state or local representative democracy.
Kevin B. Harrington was the founding president of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Throughout his life he was dedicated to improving citizens’ understanding of American democracy. Breaux exemplifies this same passionate commitment to excellence in democracy education. She has served as a dedicated legislative staff member for 27 years, a Back to School Coordinator for 11 years, staff to the Louisiana Commission on Civic Education for seven years and, most recently, she has devoted herself to bringing civics to life for young people all across Louisiana through the Legislative Youth Advisory Council.
Nominees were judged on their commitment and efforts to furthering the understanding of the principles and practices of representative democracy among students of all ages and the public in general. Efforts considered include:
- Advancing NCSL’s Legislators Back to School Program
- Promoting civic engagement and education through legislative activities
- Encouraging internships and fellowships in state and local representative bodies
- Developing publications or video productions that educate the public on the role of state and/or local legislatures
- Creating products for websites or other electronic communications that further the public’s understanding of representative democracy
Sherri Breaux serves as the co-coordinator for the Louisiana America’s Legislators Back to School Program. Her personal and innovative efforts have led the Louisiana Senate to the head of the class in participation, including many years where every senator visited classrooms. Breaux also assisted NCSL with an intensive research study of the effectiveness of the Back to School Program.
Breaux also has served as the principal staff to the Louisiana Commission on Civic Education since its inception in 2005. The Louisiana Legislature created it to educate citizens in the community and students in schools about the importance of civic engagement in a representative democracy. The commission also promotes communication and collaboration among organizations in the state that conduct civic education programs.
Breaux’s dedication to helping young people understand that they have a voice in government is evident in her hands-on involvement with students. She worked closely with the senator who proposed and advocated for a bill that created the Louisiana Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC). Not only did she help the students shepherd the bill to passage, Breaux then took on the role as staff to the council continuing her work with young people. She remains in contact throughout the year with the LYAC members, alternates and their parents, planning meetings and setting up discussions with policymakers. Each June, during the legislative session, she also plans a two-day event, which includes a public hearing for young people and a “leadership seminar” orientation for LYAC members. The key is connecting young people to their government and to their elected leaders.
Breaux has involved Louisiana Public Broadcasting with members of the youth council, who are invited to join the programming of LPB's nationally recognized Louisiana Public Square each month. This public affairs television program, airing statewide, provides citizens a forum to voice their opinions on the current issues of the day, allowing differing points of view to be heard, and includes discussions with key decision makers and leading experts.
Breaux has worked with the members of LYAC to create a “LYAC Leadership Award” to recognize and honor great young leaders of the state. This is a peer-to-peer recognition based on a student's civic engagement efforts, outstanding leadership, responsible citizenship within their community and the positive example they set for their peers.
Kevin B. Harrington of Salem, Mass., was an educator by profession and, as president of the Massachusetts Senate (1971-1978), organized the Legislative Education Office that is responsible for developing training for State House interns, the Citizens Legislative Seminar, and the NCSL Legislators Back to School program in Massachusetts. He was a leading advocate of civic education and believed government should play a significant role in promoting the civic education of its citizens.
Nominations were reviewed by a special committee of legislators and legislative staff appointed by the NCSL president and the NCSL staff chair.