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Democracy Schools Network

Monthly Update

January, 2022

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Hoping that your holiday break has left you recharged and revived! 

And now the challenge of moving ahead… an opportunity to reflect, reimagine and replenish. This month, we’ve tried to include lots of support for doing just that! Use the inspiration of our members who share some of their successes from the past year…despite the considerable obstacles that kept (relentlessly) appearing. Read the stories of our schools and how they have created innovative platforms for incorporating student voice. Consider how you can flip some of the discomfort of the past year, as one librarian did. 

Wishing you a jovial January…



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

~Upcoming Guardians of Democracy programs

Lots of opportunities for DSN members to enroll in these popular courses on Current and Controversial Issues Discussion, Informed Action/Service Learning and Simulations of Democratic Processes. DSN members receive a $300 stipend upon completion of the course, too! More details here.

~Civic Learning Across Disciplines database

As we continue to emphasize our efforts with civic learning across the curriculum, we hope that 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

  • Unfortunately, we had to postpone our session on Student Voice, scheduled for January 13. (We will share the details of the reschedule when we have them.)
  • Our series continues, as the elements of Service Learning and Extracurricular Activities are considered.  And in April, DSN members will share their own experiences from this school year with civic learning in their schools and classrooms. (Additional details and registration information here.)

-February 10- Civic Learning Across the Disciplines: Understanding the Proven Practice of Service Learning with Dr. Joe Kahne


-March 10- Extracurriculars and Civic Learning with Dr. Kelly Siegel-Stechler

-April 14- Sharing our Successes: Expanding Civic Learning Across Disciplines

SEL in Action Awards

NoVo Foundation is committed to supporting the spread of social and emotional learning (SEL) practices in schools and districts nationwide. In partnership with Education First and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the Foundation aims to seed projects that foster social and emotional competencies in students in grades PK-12. Whether you have an idea for a new initiative or want to expand or continue an existing project, they want to hear from you. More details here.

Sphere Summit: Teaching Civic Culture Together

The Cato Institute and the Sphere Education Initiative are excited to announce the return of this program for the Summer of 2022! Sphere Summit is a full‐scholarship professional development program for grades 5–12 educators and administrators and will be held in-person in Washington, DC. More details here.

Bill of Rights Institute: My Impact Challenge

This contest is for students and teachers who are making an impact with citizenship projects in their communities. The contest will award $40,000 in total prizes, including a $10,000 student grand prize and teacher prizes! More details here.


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


~How to Bring More Untold Stories Into Your Literacy Instruction

~"Civic Education: Essential for Sustaining US Democracy"

Join CivXNow and The Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University for a jointly hosted webinar featuring four of the country’s leading civic education scholars and researchers.

Friday, January 21, 10-11:30 am (CST):

Register here.

~A librarian’s thoughts on a better 2022

~Teaching Civics After January 6


Despite the uncertainty and constant pivoting of 2021, many of our members were able to engage their students in examplary civic learning. Here are some of their success stories:

John Pellikan, Prairie Ridge High School (2015)

Students participated in our "Office of Citizen Project" in which they had to research, experience, and define what it means to be a good citizen. They were required to interview 8 different people (an immigrant, veteran, someone who protested or disagreed with wars in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan, and someone from each generation) about what it means to be a good citizen and then they had to go out and perform an "act of citizenship" of their choosing. Once the interviews and act of citizenship were completed, they then had to reflect on the experience overall and come up with their own definition of a good citizen. Part of the reflection required that they evaluate Louis Brandeis's quote, "The only title superior to that of president is that of citizen." (More details here.)

Jim Vera, Oswego East High School (2015)

One of our Career and Technology Education Teachers, Robert Kaminski, led his AP Micro-Economics classes in a discussion of the recent Proof of Vaccination mandates in the city of Chicago, and how businesses would be looking at the "opportunity costs" of enforcement. He examined both sides of the issue from an economic standpoint, so his students could identify the fact that some businesses may choose not to enforce this local ordinance not for political reasons but rather for economic reasons. He said his students really were able to see how politics and economics impact the real world in a global pandemic.

Pat Riley, J. Sterling Morton West High School (2017)

Students at Morton West have begun hosting a school podcast with information and discussions related to school happenings. This is hosted and assisted by the school library staff.


Even though our January 13 webinar on Student Voice (from our CLAD series) had to be postponed, we are still seizing the opportunity to underline the importance of this element of the Democracy Schools model. During the 20-21 school year, fourteen of our Democracy Schools engaged in a renewal process, which included a school-wide self-assessment of civic learning. Here are a few examples of how they are engaging in best practices in the area of Student Voice:

~Grant Murray, Lakes Community High School (2012)

Lakes Community High School Diversity Ambassadors meet regularly with Principal David Newberry to address diversity in the building. The group's focus is on promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion at Lakes and in the community. Recently, the ambassadors conducted a round table discussion with community members to address these issues. The round table was completely student run and a great success for the group.

~Julie and Phil Donner, Carmel Catholic High School (2011)

The Program and Student Life committee is a standing committee of the School Board of Carmel Catholic High School. The committee seeks to continually reflect on and improve the student experience at Carmel, addressing long-term planning and more immediate issues that arise. The committee membership includes Board members, parents, faculty, and student representatives. Students who serve on the committee have full voice in the work of the committee. The committee also engages the Student Council and has periodically asked the Student Council to anonymously survey the entire student body to gain feedback on issues facing the students.

~Bernadette Ryan, East Leyden High School (2014)

Leyden District 212 which includes both East Leyden and West Leyden High Schools, has facilitated district and school-wide democratic deliberation on school issues in two very powerful ways.  

The Board of Education has invited student representatives, one from each high school, to the board for the past six years. This brings the student voice right into the boardroom and engages students as a whole. Student representatives voice student perspectives and concerns on matters brought to their attention and report back to students through social media to inform and engage the student body.

In the spring of 2021, shortly after Leyden High School District 212′s Board of Education adopted an Equity and Justice statement that aligns with its mission statement to educate, enrich and empower students and community members, a Student Equity Board was created at East Leyden composed of administrators, teachers, and students from diverse backgrounds. West Leyden is in the process of creating a board for the 2021-2022 school year.  The mission of the Student Equity Board is to “recognize, embrace, and cultivate a school culture grounded in equity which aims to educate and empower our students and our community.” The goals are to “notice, name, and interrupt policies, practices, and other forms of inequities and injustices” and to ‘advocate equity and justice for marginalized communities.” Students participated in a Student Equity Board Summit in July 2021 and attend monthly meetings that address school issues.

Adrijana Bisevac, Grayslake North High School (2014)

“Minority Rule” was started and led by two Senior students who wanted to create a group at GNHS to highlight and celebrate diverse voices in literature, poetry, spoken word, song etc. and engage in discussion of those works beyond the classroom. The student leaders would select the works as well as curate discussion questions for the meetings, which were typically held every other Friday after-school in the school library, and later via Zoom when they transitioned to virtual learning. All students, staff members, and administrators were invited to attend these meetings and participate in the discussion, although a core group emerged of approximately 20-30 people who attended regularly. The student leaders solicited input from other students regarding what works should be the focus of the meeting, created and sent out discussion questions in advance of the meeting, and students then served as the leaders and facilitators during the discussions. 

For example, some of the selected works included reading and analyzing excerpts from Dear Martin by Nic Stone, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez, Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience edited by Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond, and excerpts from The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, listening and analyzing lyrics from Kendrick Lamar and Tupac Shakur, spoken word from ALOK, as well as many more. These are just a few of the highlights. Students wanted to ensure there were diverse voices represented in the works they were engaging with and that the discussion was not only centered upon the works but that the discussion always meaningfully connected back to GNHS and how they could better solicit and incorporate student voice in the classroom and school and ensure that diverse voices were being represented and heard in order to create a more inclusive and equitable school culture, community, and environment for all students. 

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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