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

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