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Democracy Schools Network

Monthly Update

September 2022


Thank you to our fine presenters from last Thursday's outstanding conference:

  • Karim Ani, Citizen Math
  • Dr. Joel Breakstone, Stanford History Education Group
  • Megan Clark and Heidi Moisan, Chicago History Museum
  • Amanda Friedeman, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center
  • Meghan Goldenstein, Mikva Challenge
  • Cathie Hawke and Tiffany Middleton, The American Bar Association 
  • Dr. Shawn P. Healy, iCivics and CivXNow Coalition
  • Dr. Joe Kahne, Civic Engagement Research Group
  • David Olson, The Retro Report
  • Michelle Ramos, Environmental Education Association of Illinois
  • Dr. Steven D. Schwinn, the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Law
  • Michael Spikes, Illinois Media Literacy Coalition
  • Heather Van Benthuysen, Chicago Public Schools
  • Mary Ellen Young, SEL Hub at the DuPage Regional Office of Education


(Stay tuned for more in the October Monthly Update...)

Opening Panel discussion, "Expanding Our Understanding of Media Literacy and Civics Across the Disciplines." Mike SpikesIllinois Media Literacy Coalition; 

Joe KahneCivic Engagement Research Group; Joel Breakstone, Stanford History Education Group; Karim Ani, Citizen Math; Heather Van Benthuysen, Chicago Public Schools. 

Meet the team from Spoon River Valley High School, one of our three new Democracy Schools!!

Caleb Babcock, Wendy Tessier, Jen Burdette, Callie Johnson, Jody Collier, and Amy Mayall

Networking at Lunch: ICSS Executive Director Ben Wellenreiter and ICH coaches Corie Yow and Chris Johnson



Billson Rasavongxay was honored with the Carolyn Pereira Civic Leadership award at this year's Annual Convening. Billson (Social Studies Department Chair at Maine East High School) has been involved with the Illinois Democracy Schools for many years—and in three different schools—as a team leader, member of the DSN Advisory Council, and frequent collaborator on IDS projects. Congratulations to Billson on this accomplishment!  



DSN announcements, upcoming events, Professional Development opportunities, and information about activities in our Democracy Schools.


"Citizen Math challenges students to think critically and collaborate openly around key cultural and societal issues impacting them today. In the process, this approach builds individual confidence, deepens peer relationships, and more fully readies these young people to actively participateand make a differencein the world they will soon inherit."  (Citizen Math website.)

This past year, a couple of our DSN math teachers participated in a book discussion of Karim Ani's book, Dear Citizen Math. As a result of that discussion, they wrote a grant (which was approved) that would provide the opportunity for some of our schools to use the Citizen Math program (interactive tools, student and teacher materials) with their students for the upcoming school year. If you are interested in participating in this project, please contact Sue.  


If you would like to be kept current on current Social Studies standards, course mandates, and resources to support both, we invite you to sign up for the Illinois Civics Hub newsletter here.


 On Thursday, September 29, the first event in this series will take place. Join the conversation about the state of our democracy and civic education with Dr. Danielle Allen and Dr. Peter Levine. Both Dr. Allen and Dr. Levine are scholars, public policy experts, and national voices on the importance of civic engagement. Together we will explore the necessity of fostering active civic participation and ways we can work across differences to break down polarization and build a stronger democracy. Here is more information about this event. 


This project will develop and test a social studies curriculum module that enables high school students to studythrough a bipartisan lensa pressing issue with which policymakers at the national level are grappling. Teachers will receive a $1,000 stipend for participation. More details are available here


Street Law is looking for ten teachers to participate in a study of their Deliberations curriculum. The study lead is Dr. Paula McAvoy, co-author of the Political Classroom. Teachers will receive $350 stipend for participation. Here is more information

~DSN Grants (formerly known as RFP Stipends)

The Democracy Schools Network (DSN) offers a grant program on a yearly basis so active Democracy Schools have an opportunity to apply for funds to support work that enriches the civic learning experiences of students and improves the school’s organizational culture to provide a more democratic landscape. This has been a very successful program and has enabled many of our schools to innovate in ways that would not have been possible otherwise. 

In order to reflect more accurately the timeline that our teachers work with, we have shifted the submission periods. This allows members to consider projects they would like to have in place at the beginning of the school year, as well as projects that will not be considered until after school has resumed in the fall. 

·     First funding period: May 1June 15

·     Second funding period: September 15November 1

We hope this shift will allow more of our DSN members to think about new possibilities for civic learning opportunities in their classrooms and schools. We look forward to hearing your ideas! You can access more details and the application here. (Note: There is a different form if you are planning a collaborative effort with one or more other schools.)


Please join us as we explore Student Voice in this year's series—the second Thursday of the month (except December), from 45 pm. 

October 13 Is Responsiveness to Student Voice Related to Academic Outcomes? Dr. Erica Hodgin from the Civic Engagement Research Group.


November 10 Civic Equity for Students with Disabilities: Leah Bueso, JD, Ph.D., from the Civic Engagement Research Group.


January 12– Helping Students Navigate the Public Policy Process: Dr. Shawn P. Healy, Senior Director, Policy and Advocacy at iCivics.


February 9– Student Voice 360: Heather Van Benthuysen and Chicago Public Schools Department of Student Voice and Engagement.


March 9– Taking Informed Action with Data from the Illinois Democracy Schools: Dr. Kelly Siegel-Stechler, Senior Researcher at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement CIRCLE at Tufts University.

For detailed description of sessions and registration.



Building Critical Thinkers by Combining STEM With History

By asking students to explore the history of scientific discoveries, we get them to view their world with more wonder—and more skepticism—and condition their minds to think about causes and effects.

Boosting High School Students’ Sense of Agency and Motivation

Providing students with greater voice and choice in the classroom can build their desire to learn and do well academically.

***And a few resources that were cited by our Convening presenters, to assist you with media literacy:

~Megan Clark, Chicago History Museum: "We have a primary source analysis tool we like to use with students. It guides student through looking closely at the source and thinking about the strengths and limitations of the source.  

~Joe Kahne, Civic Education Research Group: "I think our best collection is our Digital Civics Toolkit."

~Amanda Frideman, Illinois Holocaust and Museum Center: "Illinois Holocaust Museum and Educators Institute for Human Rights created a media literacy toolkit that’s available through our website."

~Mike Spikes, Illinois Media Literacy Coalition: "The Framework for Media Literacy Education offers four core concepts that we find overlap many different approaches to media literacy to help educators find ways to incorporate the ideas into their existing curricula."

~Joel Breakstone, Stanford History Education Group: "The Civic Online Reasoning website includes lessons and assessments to engage students in combating misinformation and to provide a skill set to foster empowered citizenship."

~David Olson, The Retro Report"How to Fact-Check History is one of our more popular resources. The film and accompanying lessons take students through our process of identifying and verifying claims."

~Michelle Ramos, Environmental Education Association of Illinois: "Here are a few great resources from Earth Force that address media literacy:

FactCheckPolitiFactBasic Ways to Integrate Media Literacy and Critical Thinking into Any Curriculum, Tips for Decoding Media DocumentsCriteria for Evaluating Information on the Internet, and Three Stages of Thinking Prompts for Evaluating Sources. Additionally, here is the TIPS card PDF for folks who are interested in implementing the Earth Force process."

Enhance your classroom practice with these five-week, asynchronous, micro-credential courses hosted on Canvas. Explore strategies and resources to create a classroom climate in which there are equitable opportunities for ALL students to engage in the proven practices of civic education delineated in the middle and high school course requirements: current and controversial issue discussions, simulations of democratic processes, and informed action through service learning.

Learn from academic experts like Dr. Diana Hess, Dr. Paula McAvoy, Dr. Joe Kahne, Dr. Jane Lo, Dr. Walter Parker, and more! Collaborate with fellow participants to support brave, civil, and reflective civic engagement.

These introductory courses (Bronze level) will be offered in the fall:

For those who have already completed the Bronze level, additional courses (at Silver and Gold levels) are also beginning in the fall. Details on our website.

We hope you will encourage colleagues from other schools to consider becoming an Illinois Democracy School (IDS) during the 2022-2023 school year. The process will involve a year-long self-assessment of the state of civic learning in their school, administration of surveys to both staff and students, and a school visit by the IDS staff. Supports include an orientation, a mentor to guide the team through the process, monitoring by IDS staff, assistance with data analysis, and financial support for certain expenses that might be incurred during the process.  

For educators who are interested in improving the civic learning landscape in their schools, we believe our model is a proven one. We also offer a network of like-minded teachers, robust professional development for proven practices in civics, funding opportunities, access to expert civic partners, and a trove of vetted resources. Please have interested folks email Sue at 


Join the Illinois Civics Hub as we welcome Law Professor Dr. Steven D. Schwinn from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Law, for a webinar on Wednesday, September 28, 2022, at 3:30 p.m. Dr. Schwinn will preview the upcoming term of the Supreme Court of the United States. Learn what cases are on the docket and the impact of the recent term on public policy at both the state and federal levels of government.

This webinar is aligned with Theme 5 of the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap: Institutional and Social Transformation.

Register today.

The Illinois Civics course requirements at both middle and high school require the use of simulations of democratic processes in the classroom. Simulations like mock elections can demystify democratic institutions that gird our republic by providing an opportunity for students to apply civics knowledge, skills, and dispositions in a safe and supportive context to prepare for civic life as an adult.

The Illinois Civics Hub and the Illinois Democracy Schools are joining Kids Voting USA to provide classrooms throughout Illinois with the opportunity to participate in the Kids Voting Illinois Statewide Mock Election this year.

Schools that participate in this simulation of a democratic process will be connected to:

  • A ballot tailored to their region with candidates for U.S. House and Senate, IL House and Senate, and statewide offices like governor.
  • Cross-curricular resources to facilitate school-wide mock elections.
  • A secure voting platform through Double Click Democracy that is SOPPA compliant to protect student privacy. Students can vote via electronic or paper ballot.
  • Post-election results to analyze your school’s participation.

Democracy is NOT a spectator sport! Register your school TODAY for the Kids Voting Illinois Statewide mock election and share it with your colleagues.

2022-23 DSN Advisory Council

John Aldworth, Maine West: North Cook and Chicago

Jason Janczak, Grayslake Central: Northern Illinois

Stacey Posey, Belleville West: Metro East

Pat Riley, J. Sterling Morton West: West Cook and Chicago

Nick Vassolo, Streamwood: Kane, Kendall and Will Counties

Deanna Wiist, Normal Central: Central and Southern Illinois

Whitney Wilda, Hinsdale Central: DuPage

Melinda Wilson, Curie: South Cook and Chicago

Check out our website for PD opportunities, resources and inspiration.