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Democracy Schools Network

Monthly Update

February, 2022

This year, we have specifically focused on Civic Learning Across Disciplines with an ongoing webinar series that explores one element from the Democracy School model every month and includes examples from various disciplines and areas throughout the school. These elements have included Current and Controversial Issue Discussion, School Climate, Service Learning, and Extracurricular Activities (upcoming on March 10.) Even if you were unable to attend the live webinar, blog posts and recordings are available at the Illinois Democracy School Network Webinar Archives. These recordings are a great resource to use in your school's efforts to bring high quality professional development in civics to your staff.

Wishing you a fancy February…



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

~Upcoming Guardians of Democracy programs

New course on Informed Action through Service Learning is beginning on March 1. DSN members also receive a $300 stipend upon completion of the course! You can register here.

~Check out this story about a pilot news literacy program in Neuqua Valley High School, a DSN member since 2012.

~Civic Learning Across Disciplines database

As we continue to emphasize our efforts with civic learning across the curriculum, we hope you will contribute examples from your school. Whether it is a project that has already happened, is being planned, or is simply a hope for the future, we are interested in hearing about it. Would you please take a few minutes and provide a few details for us? We will continue to gather these throughout the rest of the school year and hope to have a rich new resource for all of you as a result.

~C.L.A.D. (Civic Learning Across Disciplines) Series

  • Our series will feature two more sessions

 -Thurs, March 10 at 4:00 pm- Extracurriculars and Civic Learning with Dr. Kelly Siegel-Stechler

-Thurs, April 14 at 4:00 pm- Sharing our Successes: Expanding Civic Learning Across Disciplines


Resources to assist our members in implementing best practices in civics:


~The Democracy Schools Network and the Illinois Civics Hub are joining with Kids Voting USA to give our schools an opportunity to participate in a statewide mock election this year. You can register your school here.

~Skew the Script provides free, relevant math curriculum to teachers and students that explore off script” problems—authentic, real-world problems that don’t have one solution—using mathematical reasoning.

~Harvard’s Graduate School of Education’s Arts as Civic Commons (ArtC) project offers strategies and resources to help learners explore civic life through looking at and making art.


Extracurricular activities

Our March webinar will examine the civic element of Extracurricular Activities. This is the first time that we have taken a deep dive into this element and are delighted to have Dr. Kelly Siegel-Stechler, who is a Senior Researcher at CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), assist with this exploration. As a “warm-up, would you think about an extracurricular club or activity that you sponsor and, in this quick survey, consider which indicators from the Democracy School model are addressed? Thank you.


Civic Buddies


This year, our organization announced that we would, once again, begin accepting new applicants for Illinois Democracy School status. And we are pleased to reveal that three schools are now entering the last phase of this process: Mendota Township High School, Spoon River Valley High School, and Warren Township High School. Working with each of these schools is a “Civic Buddy” a member of the DSN Advisory Council who serves as an additional support to guide the school through the process. Tracy Freeman (Normal West, 2016), Stacey Posey (Belleville West, 2014) and Jason Janczak (Grayslake Central, 2014) serve in this capacity for (respectively) Mendota, Spoon River, and Warren Township. They shared some of their thoughts about the recognition process, past and present:


How has the recognition process changed since your school was recognized as a Democracy School? How has your school changed as a result of going through that process?

Jason: The data provided is so much more robust than it was seven years ago. The ability for schools to do a deep dive into views that students from certain identities have makes it easier for schools to determine where their strengths are and where they need support from the network.

Tracy: I feel that there is more support (surveys and feedback); it is precise and aligned to the process.

Stacey: Since becoming a Democracy School we have expanded our student learning and civic engagement. We started and have supported a Student Forum with Metro-East high schools and hosted a yearly event with 100 plus students and community stakeholders. This program would not be possible without the support of the DSN.


In what ways has the world changed in recent years that offer both opportunities and challenges for a school seeking this recognition?

Stacey: It is a challenging time to go through the recognition process with the COVID restrictions and lack of opportunities for engagement. However, the opportunity to assess and re-create current school programs is part of the process, so there is an opportunity to earn recognition and initiate proactive school change at the same time.

Tracy: It seems that the positive engaging items we celebrated to receive recognition are now closeted or hidden!!! COVID, shut-downs, etc. are causing some obstacles to meetings with building-based teams.

Jason: I think that anything coming out of education that appears to have any hint of progressivism is now under more scrutiny in the public eye. That in and of itself is disappointing because the work we are doing and the changes we are making are positively impacting our students' lives and connecting some students to an institution that previously they felt disconnected from. 


Are there new reasons to become a Democracy School now?

Stacey: With the challenges of our ever-changing curriculum, the DSN and its resources are up to date and make it so easy for teachers to implement lessons on current topics. The PD and CLAD trainings provide resources for any discipline.

Tracy: The unity it brings with other schools. Also, there is amazing PD that is shared (book studies, presenters etc.). It reminds us WHY what we do needs to continue and be celebrated and reinforced.

Jason: Absolutely! The data that the schools receive from going through the initial process is invaluable for providing honest insight into what is going well in your school community and where areas of growth are for your school community. 


Thinking back to when you led your school through the recognition process, what was the most important thing you learned about your school and its potential for helping students understand their civic role?

Jason: That student voice mattersall students voice matter. What we found was that on the surface the data showed that overall students felt they had a voice, but when we broke it down into different identities the data changed, and some student groups felt they had little to no voice at all at the school. Had we not been able to break down the data like that, we would have never discovered this area of growth. 

Stacey: The most beneficial part of our recognition process was evaluating what we were NOT offering our students. We saw a lack of student organizations for some of our sub-groups. We prioritized those groups as we expand our service learning and offered more opportunities for those students with new clubs/organizations. We now offer over sixty student organizations at our school.

Tracy: I learned how much we do that other schools do NOT do. And I’m sure that all schools discover this, to some extent. Also, I found that there is little time to unite across departments and to share what is being done.  


What have you learned by working with this applicant school?

Stacey: Spoon River Valley High School (led by Jen Burdette) is already doing some amazing things that the entire DSN will be able to benefit from. I’ve also gained an appreciation for the sense of sufficiency that we have in my school.

Tracy: The fact that I am leading my school through the DSN renewal process this year—and the exasperation that goes with that—has made me appreciate that this kind of reflection and self-assessment is the kind of hard work schools need to do. 

Jason: The school I'm working with is in a unique situation because Warren Township High School is a four-year school split up by two campuses (Fr/So one campus and Jr/Sr on another). That uniqueness makes them great though, because the needs of the underclass campus may not line up with the needs of the upper-class campus. But through their affiliation with the DSN, both campuses will be able to get the support they need to grow in those areas.  

Advisory Council Members, 2021-22:

Northern Illinois: Jason Janczak (Grayslake Central)

Central and Southern Illinois: Tracy Freeman (Normal West)

Northern Cook/Chicago: Carl Brownell (Maine East)

Western Cook/Chicago: Pat Riley (J. Sterling Morton West)

Southern Cook/Chicago: Melinda Wilson (Curie)

DuPage: Billson Rasavongxay (Hinsdale Central)

Kane, Kendall, Will: position open

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