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Democracy Schools Network

Monthly Update

August  2022


The Illinois Democracy Schools Network invites you to attend our annual convening on Thursday, September 15, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Double Tree Hilton in Lisle, Illinois. This year's theme is Civic Learning and Media Literacy Across the Disciplines.

Featured presenters include:

  • 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, 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
  • Dr. Kelly Siegel-Stechler, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning  
  • Michael Spikes, Illinois Media Literacy Coalition
  • Heather Van Benthuysen, Chicago Public Schools
  • Mary Ellen Young, SEL Hub at the DuPage Regional Office of Education

Registration includes a light breakfast and lunch. PD hours will be provided.

Register TODAY!


The Illinois Civics Hub and the Illinois Democracy School Network are delighted to welcome Grace Northern to our research-practice partnership with the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. Grace is a fellow from the Stevenson Center at Illinois State University.

Grace will be evaluating Illinois Middle School civic education standards and supporting the Democracy Schools project. She is a second-year graduate student from the Stevenson Center at Illinois State University, pursuing her M.S. in Political Science and Applied Community and Economic Development. Her research centers on youth civic engagement, youth voter turnout, and youth participation in community development. Before joining CIRCLE, she worked with multiple community development organizations, including serving as a youth development promoter in Peace Corps Costa Rica. She holds a B.A. in History and International Studies from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She currently lives in Chicago with her partner Jon and their dog, Beans. In her free time, she enjoys biking, climbing, and playing board games.



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


We are very pleased to announce that we have added three new schools to our Democracy Schools Network:

  • Mendota High School, led by Jason Artman
  • Spoon River Valley High School, led by Jen Burdette
  • Warren Township High School, led by Heather Stewart

For the 2021-22 school year, these schools engaged in a process which included school-wide discussions about the state of civics in their school, a self-assessment where the team reflected on all eleven elements in the Democracy School model, and the administration of surveys to both staff and students. All of this data was then analyzed by the team, with help from staff at Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University and the Illinois Civics Hub. These schools will be acknowledged for their accomplishment at the Annual Convening in September. 


"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 participate – and make a difference – in 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.  (Note that author Karim Ani will be one of our presenters at this year's Annual Convening on September 15!)


Five schools participated in the IDS renewal process during this past school year. Schools began with the data from the year when they became a Democracy School, and reflected on changes that have occurred since then, as well as their current strengths and challenges. Schools then gathered more data about the 4-5 elements that they chose  through discussions, a self-assessment, and surveys. These schools (noted with the year that they originally became a Democracy School) now have the distinction of renewing their commitment to this program:

~Alton High School (2016) led by Carla Hilgert

~Antioch High School (2015) led by Anne Eichmann

~Collinsville High School (2016) led by Barbara Lindauer

~John Hancock College Prep High School (2013) led by Andrew Martinek

~Normal West Community High School (2016) led by Tracy Freeman


Mark your calendars for Wednesday, August 31, for a research presentation and panel co-hosted by CIRCLE and iCivics on how K-12 schools can play a role in preparing young people for participation in our nation's constitutional democracy. Learn more and register for event here



Maybe you want a jump-start for the Annual Convening?! We asked our presenters to recommend some resources:

~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 4 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: FactCheck, PolitiFactBasic 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.


John Aldworth, Maine West (2009)

Representative for Cook North

I am honored to have served as the Associate Principal for Student Experiences at Maine West High School since 2016. Prior to that, I worked as Activities Director at Downers Grove South, as a Division Head for English and Fine Arts at Wheeling High School, and an English teacher before that. Additionally, since 2011, I have served on the Executive Board of IDSA (Illinois Directors of Student Activities). Through my connection with DSN and IDSA, I have worked to increase student voice in activities and all experiences within the schools. I look forward to serving on the council to learn from all the members and their schools and hopefully share a bit from my experience as well. 

On a more personal note, I have three children; my oldest son is heading to Ball State this fall, my daughter is a junior at Prospect High School, and my youngest son is a freshman at Prospect.

Jason Janczak, Grayslake Central (2014)

Representative for Northern Illinois

I am the Social Studies Department Chair at Grayslake Central High School. I have been there for more than 20 years, teaching everything from AP Government to Economics to World History. I was the founding member of GCHS' Democracy School committee and have served on the DSN Advisory Committee for 3 years. I am also a member of the of the School Board of the elementary district where we live. I am married with 2 kids (ages 7 and 9) who keep me on my toes and smiling...most days.

Patrick Riley, J. Sterling Morton West (2017)

Representative for West Cook

I teach 12th grade Civics and Economics at Morton West High School. I've also taught Personal Finance, AP Computer Science Principles, Computer Programming and Networking. Before my time at Morton West, I taught in Chicago Public Schools. When not teaching, I'm actively trying to get my two kids interested in my hobby as a vinyl record collector. We also enjoy traveling, the outdoors, and singing Bruce Springsteen songs.

Stacey Posey, Belleville West (2014)

Representative for Metro East

I have the privilege of teaching Sociology, Civics, and AVID at Belleville West High School in downtown Illinois. I serve my district as a teacher, mentor, curriculum planner, and advisor of student activities. I have a passion for traveling and bringing those experiences back to my classroom. I have also coached volleyball and worked with student-athletes for more than 25 years.

Nick Vassolo, Streamwood (2016)

Representative for Kane, Kendall, and Will

I have been teaching Civics and humanities at Streamwood High School for more than twenty years. It is my mission to emphasize the importance of civic engagement to my students. I have spent my career developing, facilitating, and connecting authentic civic-minded experiences for my students. My goal is to have students leave my class feeling empowered and committed to action.

Whitney Wilda, Hinsdale Central (2017)

Representative for DuPage

I have been an educator at Hinsdale Central High School since 2007. For thirteen years, I was a Social Studies teacher, and for the past school year and this upcoming school year, I am the Excel 3 Coordinator -- helping students with pandemic-related learning loss. While I was a Social Studies teacher, I specialized in World Cultures and World History Honors, and from 2016 through 2021, I was the Civics team leader and also helped write our curriculum for the course. We were selected to present our semester-long project, the Civic Engagement Portfolio, at the NCSS Conference in Chicago in 2018. Since the fall of 2021, I have been a co-sponsor of Students Against Destructive Decisions. My professional areas of interest include informed action through service learning and empowering all students with the tools and knowledge to be active and engaged citizens in our democracy.

Deanna Wiist, Normal West (2016)

Representative for Central and Southern Illinois

Nearing the final phase of a 30+ year career, I am currently a social studies teacher at Normal West High School. I teach US History, Human Geography, and Regional World Studies. I have spent a number of years teaching AP Human Geography, Language Arts, and a variety of other courses. Professional activities include curriculum development for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Steering Committee for the Illinois Geographic Alliance, and the Executive Committee of the Illinois Geographical Society. I am a member of both NCSS and NCGE. 

In my free time, I love to travel and explore the world. I adore the arts. I have had many opportunities to travel as a teacher. Favorite professional activities include summer seminars as part of the Gilder Lehrman Society and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Melinda Wilson, Curie (2015)

Representative for South Cook

Melinda Wilson holds a M.Ed. from DePaul University and an M.A. from the University of Illinois with additional coursework at Northwestern University. She has trained at Batsheva Dance Company (Tel-Aviv), Pineapples (London), and Centre de Danse du Marias (Paris) and has been a pick-up dancer with American Ballet Theatre, David Dorfman Dance and Urban Bush Women to name a few. Awards include Top 50 Global Teacher Award, Golden Apple Award, Dance Chicago Outstanding Choreographer (New Voice) Award, IAHPERD Teacher of the Year, SHAPE National Dance Teacher of the Year, first place choreographic awards from Livorno in Danza International Competition and Barcelona Dance Grand Prix. Wilson has been featured in Tes Education Magazine (United Kingdom), Dance Magazine and various national and international webinars. Wilson is a teacher of Ballet, and Jazz at American Rhythm Center, resident choreographer for Her Story Theater and Dance Artistic Director at Curie Metropolitan High School for the Performing and Technical Arts. She is also the founder of Elite Dance Events & Per4mers4Change promoting positive active citizenship through the power of performance and youth.

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