Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Taking Informed Action, Part 4 of 4

Foreword by Sonia Mathew, Civic Learning Manager

Over 225 attendees participated in the Democracy Schools Network Convening which took place March 8-9th in Naperville, Illinois with the theme “Informed Action for Equity”. This year, we recognized and celebrated 13 new Democracy Schools that joined the network. The Network now encompasses 67 high schools with representation in Chicago, its surrounding suburbs, the Metro East region outside of St. Louis, and both Central and Southern Illinois.

Network members and civic learning partners presented many workshops related to our theme. Pleases enjoy reading reflections from DSN members on various breakout sessions from the convening. These reflections focus on fostering civil discourse and strengthening student voice.

Upstanding: What it Takes to Choose to Participate

Tracy Freeman, Social Studies teacher/chair, Normal West High School, Democracy Schools Network Advisory Council member

Practicing what he preached Wayde Grinstead had those who attended his Facing History session engaged! At the March 9th convening, Mr. Grinstead, Program Associate, from Facing History and Ourselves presented “Upstanding: What it Takes to Choose to Participate.” During the session he spoke about and demonstrated proven practices that that allow teachers to engage their students in discussions. The session engaged the participants in many of the literacy and SEL strategies available on the Facing History web site.

In groups the participants discussed the knowledge, skills and dispositions students need to be an “upstander” with civil discourse, Mr. Grinstead had the participants utilizing key skills to engage entire classes. In one exercise participants applied the seven rules of having a civil and productive disagreement. After reading historical articles, a dialogue that was hard to stop ensued! All materials were sharing from historical situations and are available on the web site.

Participants left this session with materials in hand and experience using the skills needed to foster civil discourse in their classrooms.

Wayde Grinstead led an exciting session encouraging his participants to support students to take informed action.


Facing History's Educator Resources

Taking Informed Action: Implementing Changes Outside the Classroom

Student reflection from: Keyana Allen, Junior, Lindblom Math Science Academy

Berto Aguayo, a community organizer at the Resurrection Project, led a student session entitled “Taking Informed Action” at this year’s Democracy Schools Network convening that took place on March 9th. Students learned about the importance of using their voices to implement change in their communities and schools through leadership training.

We discussed the importance of organizing and the impact it could have on our future and inside our schools. To understand what organizing does, we first had to understand why we organize and how we could use our voices as youth to establish a sense of power and promote change when organizing. Aguayo asked each of us those questions and got the same answer from everyone, “We Organize to Promote Change.” Another student responded that to promote change, we have to speak up and find those with the same passion as us and establish a relationship. This automatically made me think about our schools and how to truly change the issues that the students, teachers and administration face, we all should come together and tackle it together. It takes all three for a school to function and none can solve the issue alone.

When I shared this, many agreed, and I was surprised by how many students had the same mindset. I believe this sparked something because right after we broke off into partners and found someone who shared the same concerns we have for our community and school. Students who attended schools over five hours apart connected with each other. It was so inspiring to see so many students connect so quickly and discuss how they could implement change sharing personal stories and establishing a relationship with one another. The passion those students had for their community and school was unbelievable. They were bringing up issues that principals wouldn't even think students knew about and trying to figure out ways to solve them. I believe that Berto Aguayo brought out a leader in every student in that room and would truly love to see what it takes to get students at my school to continue to develop as leaders.

Read part 3 of this series

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Taking Informed Action, Part 3 of 4

Foreword by Sonia Mathew, Civic Learning Manager

Over 225 attendees participated in the Democracy Schools Network Convening which took place March 8-9th in Naperville, Illinois with the theme “Informed Action for Equity”. This year, we recognized and celebrated 13 new Democracy Schools that joined the network. The Network now encompasses 67 high schools with representation in Chicago, its surrounding suburbs, the Metro East region outside of St. Louis, and both Central and Southern Illinois.

Network members and civic learning partners presented many workshops related to our theme. Pleases enjoy reading reflections from DSN members on various breakout sessions from the convening. These reflections focus on addressing civic learning across the curriculum, a key component of being a Democracy School.

Literacy is Power

Jay Mehta, English Teacher, Wheaton North High School, Democracy Schools Network Advisory Council Member

A day filled with educators creating conversations about democratic ideals and what it means to be a civically engaged citizen led educators to present about their areas of expertise. The Robert R. McCormick Foundation’s Democracy Schools Network facilitated academic sessions where professionals created authentic conversations with educators. On Friday, March 9th Heather VanBenthuysen, Civic Education Manger at Chicago Public Schools, delivered a presentation on the power of media literacy.

VanBenthuysen began her presentation with an inquisitive question, “Why is media literacy important?” Her audience, educators, began to consider how media is used in society and how they have conversations with their students about media. VanBenthuysen led her audience into a conversation about how to support students to create ethical media literacy with a resounding message, “Simply producing media is not media literacy.” There is a need to teach students how to verify information to counter fake news. The room began to write down her message, shared ideas with their fellow teachers by questioning how they teach their students about using media purposefully.

Beyond the profound messages about teaching media literacy, VanBenthuysen also discussed how to support students in understanding tacit messages in today’s media through rhetorical analysis. VanBenthuysen said, “All media messages have a purpose” and it is the job of educators to help students understand the underlying messages. Her discussion about the purpose behind media and using Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle led the audience to learn methods how to interpret media.

Through a powerful presentation about media literacy, VanBenthuysen concluded her conversation with a room full of educators with a message: “Media literacy is not only about teaching media ethics, but teaching students how to employ those ethics.”

Climate Change is More Than Melting Ice Caps and the Plight of Polar Bears

Barb Laimins, Civics Mentor Liaison, Illinois Civic Mission Coalition

Climate Change was the subject of the presentation made by Mark Mesle at the recent Democracy School Convening. Mark made us all aware that “climate changes is more than melting ice caps and the plight of polar bears”. Climate change has resulted in a wide range of complex problems that affect countries and individuals around the world today.

According to Climate Central, “2017 finished as the third – warmest year since records began”. In fact, the top ten hottest years globally have been within the life time of most high school seniors. As the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, it will become a topic that finds its way into more and more classroom discussions. Climate change is not just a scientific issue but an economic issue, a social justice issue, a public health issue and a civics issue with local and international consequences.

Climate change contributes to economic and political instability and also worsens the effects. According to Jessica Benko, in “How a Warming Planet Drives Human Migration,” “It propels sudden-onset disasters like floods and storms and slow-onset disasters like drought and desertification; those disasters contribute to failed crops, famine and overcrowded urban centers; those crises inflame political unrest and worsen the impacts of war, which leads to even more displacement.”

In Chicago over the past century, downpours that force human waste up pipes and into homes — storms that dump at least 1.5 inches of rain in a single day — have struck the city more often. Annual precipitation in the Midwest grew about 20 percent during the past century. Rains of more than 2.5 inches a day are expected to increase another 50 percent in the next 20 years. That means more flooding—and more clean-up costs. Yet, sadly, the United States is the only country to not join the Paris Climate Accord.

According to a report released by National Geographic, “Extreme weather, made worse by climate change, along with the health impacts of burning fossil fuels, has cost the U.S. economy at least $240 billion a year over the past ten years. And yet this does not include the three major hurricanes or 76 wildfires in nine Western states. Those economic losses alone are estimated to top $300 billion, the report notes. Putting it in perspective, $300 billion is enough money to provide free tuition for the 13.5 million U.S. students enrolled in public colleges and universities for four years.”

The multidisciplinary study of the political, social, scientific and economic effects of climate change is an opportunity for students to take action on an important issue.


Alliance for Climate Education

CLEAN Network

Climate Central

The Choices Program

Read part 2 of this series

Read part 4 of this series

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Taking Informed Action, Part 2 of 4

Foreword by Sonia Mathew, Civic Learning Manager

Over 225 attendees participated in the Democracy Schools Network Convening which took place March 8-9th in Naperville, Illinois with the theme “Informed Action for Equity”. This year, we recognized and celebrated 13 new Democracy Schools that joined the network. The Network now encompasses 67 high schools with representation in Chicago, its surrounding suburbs, the Metro East region outside of St. Louis, and both Central and Southern Illinois.

Network members and civic learning partners presented many workshops related to our theme. Pleases enjoy reading reflections from DSN members on various breakout sessions from the convening. These reflections focus on addressing issues of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion- a necessary step in working towards eliminating the civic empowerment gap.

Woke or Broke: Grayslake North High School's Journey Toward Diversity, Inclusivity, and Civic Discourse

Jason Janczak, Social Studies Department Chair, Grayslake Central High School, Democracy Schools Network Advisory Council Member

Like many schools across the nation, students at Grayslake North were increasingly growing concerned about the underlying non-inclusive and sometimes hurtful discourse that was becoming pervasive in their hallways in the days leading up to and following the 2016 Presidential election. A group of students recognized that this was not what Grayslake North stood for and decided to take action. After meeting with Social Studies Department Chair Christopher Kubic the students formed the group Woke whose mission was dedicated to addressing the issues Grayslake North was facing. What started off as 4 students and Mr. Kubic has grown into a schoolwide movement involving multiple stakeholders. In that time the focus of Woke has expanded from being solely on the issue of diversity to encompassing new issues such as inclusivity, civil discourse and in the wake of Stoneman Douglass, school safety.

What started as a grassroots student movement has now grown to include staff professional development and community outreach. Woke brought a speaker in to work with Grayslake North staff on how to address the issues students were facing throughout their school day. Through the existence of Woke, students and staff have learned how to have civil and productive disagreements and there are now monthly activities in place centered around the mission of creating a positive culture of positive conversation. Students at North are frequently reminded that their culture of discourse should value the conversation more than the value of convincing someone that their side is correct or wrong. Additionally, both students and staff have been trained in the Teaching Tolerance IQEE (Interrupt, Question, Educate, Echo) method which helps them guide a conversation with a person who has said something hurtful or offensive.

The highlights of the session were hearing from Woke members Rachel Garza and Alex Almanza who spoke passionately about the changes that they have seen at Grayslake North since Woke was developed. This was a true student-led movement at North, and the implementation of this organization has had far-reaching positive benefits across the culture of the school and community. More information about Woke can be found in the presentation and handouts.

The power of student voice is alive and well at Grayslake North, and because of the Woke student-led organization North is now a more inclusive place where every student feels comfortable sharing their thoughts with their community.

An Uphill Journey to Provide Equity in Mathematics Education

Presenters: Lorie Cristofaro, Assistant Principal for Instruction, Glenbard South High School and David Elliott, Department Chair, Glenbard South High School
Reflection from: Sharon Smogor, Retired Democracy Schools Network Educator

Mathematics, equity and civic engagement: what’s the connection?

At first glance these three topics may seem unrelated but if we stop and think about it, the connection becomes clear and it is a very important aspect of the DSN conference theme, “Informed Action for Equity.”

The session on Equity in Mathematics Education focused on two main topics:

  1. How to build a high school Mathematics curriculum that is just and equitable, providing access and opportunities for success for all students.
  2. The pedagogical changes necessary to implement this program.

Being able to understand and apply mathematical concepts and skills prepares students for college, careers, and access to the American Dream. How can this be accomplished? This presentation provided information about how and why high school students often do not have access to college prep Math classes and how this opportunity gap leaves them unprepared for the ACT, SAT and college placement exams, holds them back in course advancement in college, and becomes a stumbling block to access the American Dream.

Glenbard High School District 87 decided to eliminate the basic level of Math classes so that all freshmen enter the Math program at the Algebra I level or higher. This allows them to complete Algebra II Trig in junior year, providing them with better access to college opportunities and the doors that a college education opens. This is quite a challenge but the Glenbard schools have adopted a comprehensive program of professional development, techniques to increase student engagement, practical applications of mathematical concepts across the curriculum, high expectations for all students, interventions for struggling students, and authentic assessments of learning.

The session was very interactive and it began with the presenters asking the participants to describe some of their personal experiences with Math. It was a diverse group so there was a wide range of responses, but “challenge” seemed to be the word of the day. And so it goes in the classroom. Students come in with a wide variety of knowledge, experiences and attitudes and the challenge is to engage all of them, help them make meaning of the concepts, and use the skills in a practical way.

The session continued with reading two articles from the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, “Mathematics Education through the Lens of Social Justice: Acknowledgement, Actions, and Accountability” and “Improving Student Achievement by Leading the Pursuit of a Vision for Equity.” A lively discussion followed, questions were raised and ideas were shared about how important equity in STEM classes is, where it is lacking in the schools represented in the session, and how to address the opportunity gap.

The session concluded with some suggestions on how to create a Mathematics curriculum that meets the challenges in today’s classrooms. Topics presenters and participants emphasized include:

  • The need for data driven decisions
  • High quality Professional Development
  • The importance of cross-curricular team building
  • Rethinking the framework of the Mathematics
  • The importance of student ownership of their learning
  • Fostering curiosity and collaboration among the students
  • Assessments and pathways to success
  • Course sequencing
  • Student-centered interventions and enrichment
  • Embracing the challenges of Mathematics
  • The role of homework
  • Benefits and pitfalls of technology
  • Equitable access to resources
  • Applying math concepts and skills to the real world (e.g. math in the news)
  • Vertical alignment of the Mathematics curriculum from elementary school through college

So back to the original question: Mathematics, equity and civic engagement: what’s the connection? Mathematics gives us the tools to better understand the world and solve a variety of problems. Equity in education means that communities, students, teachers and schools have the resources to meet all students where they are and help move them forward. Civic engagement means that citizens and community members have the knowledge, attitudes, skills and actions to influence the policy making and implementation process. Mathematical skills such as working with statistics, are critical in making sense of many political issues and current events. When students have equitable access to education, and the opportunity to engage in and see the value of their learning, they are better prepared to consume, understand, and create information in a rapidly changing world. They can use their voices to advocate for the causes that are important to them and their communities. Knowledge is power.

Read part 1 of this series

Read part 3 of this series

Friday, May 4, 2018

Fighting for Human Rights in Illinois

When 18 national and local grant makers join forces, the result is $1.1 million to fuel 37 cutting edge immigrant and refugee organizations. While the fundraising number is always reported, the story at the heart of the Illinois Immigration Funders Collaborative (IFC) is the work of front line organizations ambitiously strengthening our state. What follows are examples of three agencies within the collaborative working tirelessly to serve, organize, and advocate for marginalized, scapegoated, abused, exploited, and mistreated communities.


Credit: SSIP - Immigration Workshop

In recent decades, there has been a rapid influx of immigrants moving to the suburbs of Chicago, largely due to an increase in jobs and a lower cost of living. Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project (SSIP) led by two young immigrants, Jose Eduardo Vera and Elizabeth Cervantes, help suburban immigrants access the tools and information needed to effect change and become leaders in their communities. Because of the work done by SSIP, more suburban immigrants are finding pathways to citizenship, becoming more involved in their children’s education, and learning about and advocating for the rights of undocumented citizens and other immigrant communities.

In many cases, immigrant families successfully utilize available resources they need to prosper in their new communities; however, when the immigrant is a child making the long journey alone, the odds of finding asylum are bleak. Escaping violence, human trafficking, abuse, and extreme poverty demands extraordinary courage and resilience. The U.S. has long been a safe haven for such asylum-seekers, but today most are detained and threatened with deportation. The Young Center for Immigrant Children (YCIC) Chicago serves as a trusted ally by providing these young immigrants with attorneys and social workers who can ensure their safety and well-being. The services provided by YCIC to the immigrant children that arrive in our communities are immeasurable!

Credit: YCIC Chicago

HANA Sanctuary Rally

Often, we assume that all immigrant families come from similar backgrounds and require similar resources; however, that is not always the case. For example, Asians make up the second largest immigrant population in Illinois, and they require very different support services than, say, Mexican immigrants. HANA Center combines community services and organizing for Koreans from its offices in Albany Park (Chicago) and Prospect Heights. The Center advocates for pro-immigrant state policy and educates the Asian community about the laws that directly affect them. In 2017, HANA community members worked tirelessly to get the Illinois Trust Act passed. The legislation was crafted to prevent law enforcement officials across the state from detaining individuals based solely on their immigration status and to limit local agencies’ cooperation with federal immigration authorities. In August 2017, Governor Rauner signed the bill into law.

These are just three of examples of the incredible work being done by immigrant and refugee organizations within the Illinois Immigration Funders Collaborative (IFC). Yet, the most important point to state is that each IFC’s partner organization is making a positive and lasting impact in communities across the state.

Shining Light, Telling Stories, Having Impact

The Social Justice News Nexus at Medill partners with journalists to explore issues impacting Chicago communities.

by Kari Lydersen, Interim Director of Social Justice News Nexus
Adriana Cardona-Maguigad
searching abandoned buildings.
Credit: WBEZ Chicago

When Adriana Cardona-Maguigad walked around the Back of the Yards neighborhood where she was editor of a community newspaper, she would often chat with people living on the streets or in abandoned buildings. She was surprised to hear that many of them had Puerto Rican accents, since the Southwest Side neighborhood has a largely Mexican immigrant population. Cardona, who moved to the U.S. from Colombia as a teenager, started asking more questions.

She began uncovering a strange and troubling story: many of the men and women had come to Chicago from Puerto Rico to live in unlicensed drug treatment centers housed in storefronts and residential buildings in Back of the Yards and surrounding immigrant neighborhoods. And some of them had been sent by Puerto Rican government authorities.

Around this time Cardona was selected as one of the inaugural class of Fellows in the Social Justice News Nexus (SJNN), a program launched by the Medill School of Journalism with support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. SJNN’s mission was to bring together journalists, community leaders and Medill graduate students to tell the stories and amplify the voices of people in marginalized communities, related to important policy and social justice issues.

Angel and Manuel in the abandoned house by Adriana Cardona-Maguigad, WBEZ Chicago

With financial and editorial support from SJNN, Cardona continued digging into the story of Puerto Ricans sent to unlicensed treatment centers in Chicago, where they reported a complete lack of medical supervision, manipulative and abusive treatment and other serious issues. Many people ended up fleeing or kicked out of the centers, leaving them homeless, often without speaking English or even owning warm clothes, in a city where they had no connections or resources. SJNN received a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism to allow Cardona and another Fellow to travel to Puerto Rico. And in 2015, the investigation aired on This American Life and WBEZ Chicago Public Media.

This American Life: Not It! Part One

The experience and connections that Cardona developed through this project continued to shape her career. In 2016 she accepted a job as an investigative reporter at Univision Chicago, where she did more stories on the unlicensed treatment centers and also delved into housing, exploitation of workers, police misconduct, domestic violence and other serious policy and justice issues affecting Univision’s Spanish-speaking audience.

Joey Gannon and WBEZ Chicago

Cardona continued to collaborate with SJNN, including as a Fellow leading a team of Medill students investigating asbestos in Chicago Public Schools. The resulting two-part piece showed exposed asbestos in a Chicago elementary school, in a room where children studied and ate lunch. Shortly after the piece aired, the asbestos was repaired and the district’s online asbestos inspection records were updated. The series won two Chicago Emmy’s. Cardona is currently also working with Medill students through SJNN on a piece about immigrants and the state Department of Children and Family Services. She has also collaborated with other SJNN Fellows on investigations, including a recent project with the Chicago Reporter on race and police hiring practices.

Cardona’s work throughout her career has been an example of the journalistic approach so sorely needed in a city like Chicago that is notoriously segregated and where large contingents of the population feel they are not adequately represented by media nor given a seat at the table in civic and policy debates. A study by the University of Texas Center on Media Engagement and the Chicago news organization City Bureau released in January 2018 documented how Latino and African American residents on the South and West sides of Chicago feel misrepresented and under-served by the media.

Adriana Cardona-Maguigad,
WBEZ Chicago

SJNN aims to address this situation by supporting and amplifying the work of journalists like Cardona working and living in these neighborhoods; and also by connecting with community leaders to produce media that will serve their communities and to help journalism students and professional journalists better understand these stories.

Since its inception in 2013, SJNN has hosted four annual cohorts of Fellows focused on specific themes: drug policy and treatment, mental health and criminal justice; housing and homelessness; and environmental justice. Currently, Fellows are working with Medill graduate students on in-depth stories about a variety of social justice issues. Fellows have shed light on serious and under-covered issues and also on the resilience and creativity of local leaders in addressing these issues.

SJNN Fellows’ stories are published in major media including the Chicago Tribune, WBEZ, Chicago Reader, the Guardian and Crain’s Chicago Business, and also in community media outlets that engage residents who feel misrepresented by and may not consume mainstream media.

While SJNN’s core principle is to nurture important journalism and dialogue in local communities, SJNN is also paving the way for distributing such stories on a national level and helping facilitate understanding and dialogue between stakeholders dealing with similar issues in different locations, including through a network of partner media outlets around the country.

La Perla community in Puerto Rico by Adriana Cardona, WBEZ Chicago

And sparked by Cardona’s project, SJNN has also had a long-standing focus on Puerto Rico including relationships with community organizations and leaders in Puerto Rico and in Chicago’s Puerto Rican community. For the past three years Medill students have traveled to Puerto Rico on a “Medill Explores” trip hosted by SJNN. And students have also with SJNN support traveled to cover Native American movements in Standing Rock and on the Crow reservation; Black Lives Matters protests in the Twin Cities; Arab American communities in Dearborn, Mich., and social justice issues in other locations.

By supporting and connecting community leaders, journalists from a wide range of media outlets and backgrounds and journalism students, SJNN aims to help tell stories of crucial impact at a time that a vibrant, diverse and independent media is more important than ever.

McCormick House at Cantigny Park Hosting Civic Awareness Series

Some connections are just meant to be. That seems to be the case with Cantigny Park’s McCormick House and the League of Women Voters of Wheaton. The two struck a partnership last fall, launching a Civic Awareness Series based on a common interest in encouraging local participation in the democratic process.

The series features monthly gatherings with guest speakers inside McCormick House, the former home of Cantigny’s benefactor, Robert R. McCormick. Appropriately, the proceedings take place in Freedom Hall, the mansion’s impressive library. Meetings begin at 7 pm and are free to attend, including parking.

“We are delighted to be partnering with the League on this series,” said Will Buhlig, interim director of McCormick House. “Civics education and community participation were important to Colonel McCormick, so I think he’d be delighted as well. The Civic Awareness Series also fits with our goal of using McCormick House for community learning opportunities.”

Meetings so far in 2018 have covered such topics as the March 20 Illinois primary, the status and future of the Equal Rights Amendment in Illinois, and environmental issues and policy.

On May 10, Steve Schwinn, Constitutional Law Professor at John Marshall Law School, will discuss major issues facing the U.S. Supreme Court. All are welcome, but advance registration is requested due to limited seating. Register online at wheatonlwvil.org.

Complimentary coffee and dessert are offered following each month’s presentation, a format that fosters discussion and interaction.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. It influences public policy through education and advocacy and does not support or oppose any political party or candidate. The League of Women Voters of Wheaton serves the people of Wheaton, Winfield, West Chicago, Warrenville and Carol Stream. Learn more at wheatonlwvil.org, where you can also RSVP for the next Civic Awareness Series event.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Taking Informed Action, Part 1 of 4

Foreword by Sonia Mathew, Civic Learning Manager

Over 225 attendees participated in the Democracy Schools Network Convening which took place March 8-9th in Naperville, Illinois with the theme “Informed Action for Equity”. This year, we recognized and celebrated 13 new Democracy Schools that joined the network. The Network now encompasses 67 high schools with representation in Chicago, its surrounding suburbs, the Metro East region outside of St. Louis, and both Central and Southern Illinois.

Network members and civic learning partners presented many workshops related to our theme. Pleases enjoy reading reflections from DSN members on various breakout sessions from the convening. These reflections focus on service learning, one of the six proven practices for civic learning recommended by the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools.

Beyond the Soup Kitchen

Jamie Nash-Mayberry, Social Studies Teacher, Shawnee High School, Democracy Schools Network Advisory Council Member

Beyond the Soup Kitchen addressed youth involvement in civic action projects and was presented by Jill Bass from the Mikva Challenge. This session had an excellent turnout, and began by having everyone introduce themselves by name, school district, and how they think their students would describe them in one word. Each table then had small group discussions on what it means to take informed action, what it looks like, and what it feels like. Small groups then reported out to the entire room about their discussions and Jill added examples to those topics. Topics raised included exploring root causes, the complexity of an issue, informed action, asking the right questions to students, creative problem solving, student leadership to the project, empowering students, and choosing relevant and worthwhile topics.

The attendees also participated in a Stand and Declare activity where participants stood by signs that read one of the four choices: “Students do alone, Students with teacher support, Teacher with student support, and Teacher does alone”. Participants were asked questions such as “Who Chooses the Topic?” and “Who chooses the strategies used in the action project?” Participants strongly agreed that students with teacher support was their response towards most of the questions. These questions provided elements to be considered when pursuing civics action projects and led to a great discussion on “What if your students choose a strategy that is doomed to fail?” Do you let them learn from the failure or guide them to a different strategy before it can fail?

Participants were also introduced to the spectrum of student voice as well as the “Three Types of Citizens” (personally responsible, participatory citizen, and justice oriented). Along those same lines was another handout with a baseball diamond that discussed the stages one can find in an action project, and how to advance the project through those stages of raising awareness, demonstrating support, directly asking decision makers, and then once making it “home,” the process of rewriting the goal. The session concluded with a sample civics action projects handout and an inspiring video of students at Mikva’s Project Soapbox. Participants walked out of the session with more knowledge, resources, and strategies for doing their own civic action projects back in their own schools.

Human Trafficking Awareness

Stacey Posey, Social Studies Teacher, Belleville West High School, Democracy Schools Network Advisory Council Member

Melinda Wilson, a Dance teacher at Curie Metro High School in Chicago and four of her students led an engaging session on the growing yet silent threat to our students, Human Trafficking. The key points in this session included the alarming growth of this international threat, student risk factors, key aspects of engaged awareness in your school communities. Her personal stories, the engagement of her dance students, and their involvement was crucial in the effectiveness of this session. Melinda provided detailed lesson plans in multiple disciplines which she had available for attendees to take with them. The alarming need for awareness was also stressed. This message was necessary and starkly under emphasized in our school communities.

Action Civics - A Student-led Initiative on Campus

Don Pankuch, Social Studies Department Chair, Metea Valley High School, Illinois Civic Mission Coalition Steering Committee Member

Actions Civics started at Belleville East when a student and an advisor (Andrea Seipp) attended an Action Civics Initiative conference in Philadelphia. After being inspired by the conference, they came back and began planning an Action Civics Club at Belleville East. Using a variety of materials provided by Mikva Challenge, and considering how best to implement ideas in their own community, the Club quickly began to identify issues that the school community faced.

One of these problems was hunger, a problem that some high school students face on a regular basis during the school week. Students began to research the root cause of the problem and brainstorm possible solutions. They learned about food banks in their area, was well as the limits that these resources had for students. Since hunger was a relevant problem in their local community, there was a strong desire to solve it for their community.

With growing student support, the Action Civics Club began collecting food and creating a food pantry in their school that would provide students with food. They developed a referral service and means to provide the goods to students that protected student identity and removed the possibility of embarrassing any student in need. Soon the Club also realized the need to provide food for students over the weekend and worked at creating a means to provide additional resources on these days so that no student in their community went hungry. They have continued to expand their program to solve additional problems that came up such as providing food to siblings of students in need and providing resources over breaks and vacations.

The Belleville East Action Civics Club provides a great example of how students can get involved in service learning and solve a problem that their immediate community is facing. The task of identifying problems, determining the root causes, researching possible solutions and stakeholders, and implementing programs to bring about change can be applied toward a variety of problems and in any school. The empowering of students and learning that takes place is a model of students taking civics education and turning it into community building. Schools can look at the process that Belleville East went through as a means to empower students to be active in solving problems in their community, an example of how using service learning can be relevant and meaningful to students, and how Action Civics can be used as a catalyst to bring about change in their school setting.

Read part 2 of this series