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Democracy Schools Network

Monthly Update


It is always a joy to feel like we are emerging from winter…this year, perhaps more than ever. (Seems like winter has lasted so much longer…two years?) And, here at Illinois Democracy Schools, we find ourselves eagerly looking forward to a future calendar that is more familiar to us: in-person Professional Development, networking opportunities, collaboration with DSN colleagues, and…yes, an Annual Convening. Details are not yet firm, but please mark Thursday, September 15, 2022 as the date! This is a departure from our traditional March date, but we are excited to gather our members early in the upcoming school year--to retrench, reconnect, and continue our mission of supporting each other in our endeavors to expand civic learning in our schools. 



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

~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

Thurs, April 14 at 4:00 pm- Sharing our Successes: Expanding Civic Learning Across Disciplines. Our RFP stipend program is designed to provide funds for our member schools to implement new projects and activities to address civic needs in their schools.Please join us as members from our schools talk about the projects they embarked upon with these funds during the 21-22 school year. Register here for this last webinar of the school year.

~The Initiative for Media Education Inquiry and Action (IMEDIA), a group of media and education professors and graduate students at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University, are completing a study to determine how well public schools in Illinois are able to meet the new media literacy mandate. They are recruiting educators from Illinois to take part in a brief interview about teaching media literacy in their courses. They are interviewing teachers on Zoom to find out where and how teachers are integrating media or media literacy in their classes. Interviews are 30-45 minutes, and will be held between 4-6 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. on weekdays. As a thank you, you will receive a $25 Amazon gift e-card.  If you are interested you can sign up here.

~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.


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


~What does it look and sound like when students are engaged in authentic science discussions for a variety of different purposes as they work to figure out phenomena? Attend this online workshop sponsored by National Science Teaching Association on Monday, March 28, 2022, from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM CT to learn about student-to-student discourse. Get more details and register here.

~How to Disagree--second in the series “How to Argue”. This webinar will focus on the listening and interpretation skills students need to engage in disagreements. Tuesday, March 22 from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM CT. Register here.

~School newspapers can amplify student voice, be a connection to the community, combat student consumption of misinformation, and teach communication skills. And more! High School Newspapers and Civics

~And, for those of you who would like a deeper dive into the role of extracurricular activities in developing civic skills, these two sources will provide that:

Extracurricular Activities and Adolescent Development

Joining Young, Voting Young

Enhance your classroom practice with these 5-week asynchronous, microcredential 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. More details and form to sign up here.

Cohorts will begin May 23, 2022 and end June 30, 2022. DSN members who successfully earn their microcredential will earn a $300 stipend. Space is limited. Spots will be allocated to represent the diverse regions and disciplinary contents in the DSN.

This summer, the Illinois Civics Hub is partnering with the Civic Education Research Group (CERG) and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) to sponsor a cohort of Democracy Schools Network members to learn how to facilitate informed and equitable voting in their communities during the 2022 Midterm Elections and beyond.

Participants will attend a Virtual Summer Institute over four days, choosing to participate either from June 27-30 OR July 11-14. The virtual institutes will meet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. over the four days. There will be one hour of independent work daily during the workshop.

Topics covered include:

  • Key approaches to civic education 
  • Educational resources and models for teaching about elections and voting in a nonpartisan way 
  • Research on why schools and educators have a critical role in building informed and equitable voting 
  • Opportunities to connect to educational goals and content standards
  • Dynamics that constrain informed and equitable voting 
  • School- and community-specific action planning for the 2022 election and beyond


  • Participate in an interactive 4-day Institute for three hours each day
  • Complete asynchronous, independent work for one hour each day
  • Construct a plan for working with other educators in your school community during the 2022 election cycle
  • Participate in a peer review of other participants' local plans and share yours
  • Implement your local plan with other educators during the 2022 election cycle
  • Reflect on your successes and challenges after the election 
  • Present during a webinar this fall for the Illinois Democracy Schools Network. 

Participants will have the option to earn 15 PD hours from the DuPage County Regional Office of Education for FREE

Two graduate credits from the University of California, Riverside Extension are available for an additional fee

Participants will earn a $1000 stipend for completing all requirements of this cohort. Spots are limited. Participation in the paid cohort will be based on the diverse regions and disciplinary contents in the DSN.

Participants will be notified no later than April 15th, 2022.

To apply for this opportunity, please complete this Google form no later than April 1, 2022.


The topic of our CLAD (Civic Learning Across Disciplines) webinar last Thursday was "Extracurriculars and Civic Learning with Dr. Kelly Siegel-Stechler". (You can watch a recording of it here.) We asked a few of our members to talk about their extracurricular activities and how they addressed the indicators for this element:

School staff lead structured, organized, regular, and long-term extracurricular activities that foster civic learning and engagement and are accessible to, representative of, and attend to the needs and interests of the student body by:

1.   Teaching concrete skills that are valuable in civil society, which could include managing a budget, facilitating meetings, advertising events, choosing and rotating leaders, and dealing with individuals who break group rules or fail to contribute

2.   Helping students to develop and utilize agency as a member of their various communities

3.   Helping students to form strong social bonds and support networks with adults outside of the family, peers with different lived experiences and political perspectives, and like-minded peers

4.   Recognizing and confirming students’ identities such as racial and ethnic identity, LGBTQ, gender, ability, political, etc.

5.   Modeling and promoting inclusion, equity, and constructive dialogue and deliberation while attending to multiple perspectives

6.   Welcoming students to join or start groups that address their genuine interests

7.   Cultivating student leadership in a range of meaningful ways

(Indicators are referenced in parentheses)

~Amanda Hamilton Schmidt, DS Team Leader (Fremd High School, 2018 ) shares details about the Black Leaders Achievers Club; the sponsors are Shana Dinham (Wellness Dept) and Rebecca O’Dette (Science Dept).

During Black History Month, the Black Leader Achievers Club (BLAC) put up a showcase in our main hall and a revolving digital bulletin board showcasing prominent black leaders, inventors, athletes, and performers. (1) BLAC also put together a play list of music by black artists that is played every day during the month of February during every passing period. (4) Members of BLAC read announcements every Monday, Wednesday and Friday about achievements, historical pivotal moments and significant individuals who have helped improve the lives for African Americans during the month of February. (4) Our library has books by Black authors on display as you enter and sponsored a guest speaker on February 7th.  Some of the students from BLAC will be attending a district wide equity forum meeting (7.)

~Susan Gahagan Mueller, DS Team Leader (Maine West, 2009) offers a description of

Students Organize Agains Racism; the sponsor is Gwynne Ryan (Social Studies Dept.)

Students Organize Against Racism (SOAR) is a student group designed to empower students with self-motivation tools and the vocabulary to participate and engage in brave conversations around race. Our program is modeled after the work of the SOAR students at Evanston Township High School. Students from across Maine Township participated in a workshop organized by ETHS students at Northwestern University. (7) From that experience, students came to imagine and create a program for our district (2, 6) Students have the opportunity to help design and develop spaces for meaningful dialogue about how racism shows up in our society, our schools and the lives of our students. (5) This space is one of inclusion and learning for students of all racial backgrounds to explore how race impacts their lives.

~Hunter Watts, DS Team Leader (Normal Community High School, 2016) provides a summary of the Feminism Club; its sponsor is Stephanie Hedgespeth (English Dept.)

One new club at Normal Community High School is Feminism Club, which was created by two NCHS students through a sociology project intending to impact the community (2,6). This club is open to all members of the school community, and in its monthly sessions, students, staff, and community members discuss topics revolving around gender equality, like the pay gap, gender norms, and the issues which arise from patriarchal systems (3) . In these meetings, students are encouraged to share their own experiences while respecting those of others, and ultimately, working toward more inclusive experiences and opportunities for all (4,5). While many of these topics can be very personal to discuss, Feminism Club creates a space for students to be vulnerable and dive into these difficult, yet undeniably important, conversations (3,5).


Dear Citizen Math

For the last couple of months, Democracy School Network members, Kyla Maletsky (George Washington High School, 2017), and Steve Miller (J. Sterling Morton West, 2017) and I have been involved in a study of the book “Dear Citizen Math” by Karim Ani. The author makes a compelling case for why the math classroom is an ideal place for students to cultivate a more refined understanding of the world. He sees that civics and math are essential companions. Here are some of the thoughts that emerged from our discussion of the book:

·      The use of real-world issues in the math classroom can be a good way to apply the concepts and skills that students have learned. Steve notes, “I love the distinction between ‘learning math from real-world situations’ and ‘applying math to real-world situations’.” The author focuses on that distinction and shows how the latter can be used to foster mathematically grounded, civics-based discussions in class.

·      This approach to math instruction clarifies some connections to civic learning—especially as related to certain elements of the Illinois Democracy Schools model—Current and Controversial Issues Discussion, Simulations of Democratic Processes and Design/Teaching Strategy.

·      Although there are some suggested activities in the book that can be adapted for classroom use, others could require a significant amount of time to gather required background information. Most, however, are designed to be completed in a single lesson. The website offers more options, and a subscription offers even more. 

·      The subtitle of the book, “How Math Class Can Inspire a More Rational and Respectful Society” resonated with all of us. Kyla explained how this might manifest itself in her classroom, “Math is a class where we often design a problem with one answer. What if we designed a problem with more than one answer? This approach alone could help a democratic society; it moves us away from searching for the one right way to solve a problem.”

·      And a quote from the author for you to ponder, “There’s no right answer to that (sic), but the answer isn’t what matters here. What matters is the permission we give ourselves to look at the world with fresh eyes and to consider how else it might work….At its heart, mathematics is a tool for analyzing critically and imagining creatively.”

We intend to continue this look at the Citizen Math initiative and encourage you to check out their website.  We’ll have more information about our next steps in the April Monthly Update. 

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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