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Democracy Schools Network

Monthly Update

December, 2021

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As 2021 draws to a close, we continue to reflect on how dramatically the world has changed. And, equally important, we note how we all have adapted. We remain in awe of our members—the innovation you have employed, the empathy you have demonstrated, the passion you have poured into your practice, and your insistence that civic learning is not something that only takes place when “things are good.” Despite the considerable obstacles—that have come in all shapes and sizes—you have persisted. We offer our respect, gratitude, and best wishes for a New Year that is both replenishing and energizing. Happy holidays!

Have a dazzling December!



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

~RFP Grant Program

Thank to all of you who submitted RFP Stipend Requests. We are very pleased to support proposals submitted by many of our members. Recipients of these funds will be presenting their project at our April 14 CLAD session from 4-5 pm. (Register here.)

~Guardians of Democracy courses in Current and Controversial Issues Discussion, Service Learning, and Simulations of Democratic Processes will be offered in early 2022. These online, 5-week, self-paced courses are available at no cost to all DSN members. Details here.

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

Our series continues in 2022, as the elements of Student Voice, 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.)

·     January 13- Student Voice 360

·     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


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

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DSN Book Discussion

On Thursday, November 18, a group of DSN educators gathered to discuss Matthew Kay's book and their experiences in their classrooms and schools with implementing race conversations. Some thoughts from a few of the participants:

  • Carl Brownell (Maine East, 2013): I wished I had read the book thirty years ago when I was first starting to teach. I would have structured my classroom discussions in a much better way right from the beginning of my career. The book gives many great ideas on how to create a classroom atmosphere and structure that will produce the best student participation.
  • Whitney Wilda (Hinsdale South, 2020): I am going to reread the first couple of chapters and make notes on how to teach my students how to actively listen. I imagine spending the first week of each semester doing a more thorough job of setting the stage for the rest of the semester with the tips from Kay's book.
  • Christina Jakubas (Neuqua Valley, 2012): One of the chapters (“Say It Right”) focuses on the importance of names. This NPR program further explores this issue.
  • Tracy Freeman (Normal West, 2016): The one thing I most remember is to make time for real conversations that your students guide in class.
  • Jason Janczak (Grayslake Central, 2014): This book is a must read for any educator looking for effective ways on making their classroom more of a community of learners and engaging those students in difficult conversations about controversial issues. At first I was intimidated about reading the book, thinking the work would be too hard to implement. Once I got into the book, I found the ideas easy to incorporate and the discussions engaging and focused on creating a growth mindset for both teachers and students around the topic of discussing difficult issues. It's one of those books that will transform your pedagogy. 


As the new year gets underway, three Guardians of Democracy courses will be starting. (See details above for registering.) These courses have become a valued Professional Development opportunity for our members: They specifically target one of the Democracy Schools model’s elements, are self-paced, recognize the worth of shared experiences from peers, and equip teachers with an impressive collection of vetted resources. Two of our members reflect on the course they participated in. 


  • Jenna Gaudio (Huntley, 2017) was a part of the Current and Controversial Issues Discussion course in Fall, 2020.

Why did you decide to be a part of this cohort?

I was really interested in the topic and I teach American Government, and with the current political climate, it is essential to have strategies to discuss current topics. 

What was the most important thing you learned about CCID from this experience?

I think the most important thing I learned was not to be fearful of current and controversial topics in the classroom. After having completed the CCID course, I now feel confident in my ability to facilitate sensitive conversations and discussions within the classroom. I was also reminded that I am the content area specialist in addition to the reminder that I am fully equipped with a variety of strategies and resources to hold these conversations and discussions in the classroom. I think the best strategy that I learned was it is okay to not know the answer to students' questions and it is okay to take a moment to pause before replying and turning my not knowing an answer into a teachable movement/modeling how to find the answer to my students' questions. My students know that regardless of their opinions and beliefs, my classroom is a safe place where respect is not optional. My students know that hatred is not tolerated or accepted, and my students have been very receptive to that. Also, having a conversation with my department chair reassured me that the administration supported me and saw the value and benefits in addition to the purpose behind these conversations. Creating a classroom procedure that allows these conversations to happen is essential. and it starts with giving my students trust and respect and then students reciprocating that trust and respect to everyone in the classroom. 

What resource did you find especially useful? Why?

I found the iCivics site to be a wealth of knowledge. There are so many resources and tools that are directly applicable to the classroom. I teach government and civics and found many valuable resources to bring into my classroom and support my students. I have used the material from iCivics to cover the three branches of government and used a variety of games from iCivics to reinforce the process of ratifying a constitutional amendment, how immigration works in the US, and whether I have a right to help students learn their constitutional rights. 

Could you briefly describe the lesson that you designed as your final assignment for this course?

I used the resources and strategies to hold a conversation on January 7, 2021, to discuss the insurrection at the US Capitol. I also use the strategies to discuss hate speech during my Moot Court simulation. Students are given the case background information on several SCOTUS cases [but not told the SCOTUS decision] and asked to create and formulate arguments to define what is hate speech. Each of my classes creates a hate speech definition and then I show all of my classes each definition and each class votes on the overall best definition. My confidence in holding these discussions has grown exponentially because of the CCID course. I feel confident and know that it is best practice to hold these conversations within the classroom in a safe and inviting environment.



  • Kelly Van Hout (Hinsdale South, 2020) participated in the Informed Action/Service Learning course in Spring, 2021.

Briefly describe your service learning project.

In my Civics classes this semester we all had the same essential question: What is community? And what are the individual’s responsibilities to the community as well as the community’s responsibilities to the individual?

Through a lot of discussion in each class, I have three strong service-learning projects going. In my first period class, they felt their community lacked a sense of community involvement. They are trying to get a Farmers Market brought to their town. In my second class, the students are trying to get a security guard to help empty the student parking lot and increase traffic flow and safety on our main street outside our school. They feel that when exiting the parking lot it becomes extremely dangerous. And my last class feels that students are reckless in the student parking lot--diving way too fast and dangerously. That class has created a project to propose to the administration to add signs within the parking lot and also do a driving awareness campaign for a week to bring awareness to the problem.



How did this activity deepen students’ disciplinary content knowledge and/or meet learning targets?

Service learning has deepened the students' understanding of what civic engagement is. Throughout this process, students have also been taught how to create surveys and what should and should not be included in a survey. In addition, they've learned how to analyze data and what impact the data has on the project. This project, hands down, creates an environment where students within a class are held accountable for their part of the project.


How did this project deepen students’ knowledge of themselves and their community?

This project has created a deeper understanding of students' ability to work as a team toward a common goal. It has also challenged them to think about solutions to a problem and how to create change. It also has given them the opportunity to lead within our classroom. It has given the students a sense of how their community is structured, whether that be their school community or the community in which they live.


 Comments from students who participated:

“The value added in my eyes was the entire class finding out ways to work together as a whole. Not only that, we did this project and now something might actually change because of it. “


“This service learning project has not only allowed me to connect with my classmates, but it has also allowed me to meet and connect with other citizens of the Darien community. Knowing that the goal of this project will benefit not only me but the town is super surreal and allows students like me to realize that we have a voice in this community. Overall, this project makes you learn that with a little hard work, you have the power to make change!”


What advice would you give teachers thinking about opportunities for engaging their students in service learning?

My one piece of advice that I would give to teachers thinking about opportunities for engaging their students in service learning is to take the Informed Actions through Service Learning Class through the Guardians of Democracy. This class really helped prepare me for the entire project with the activities and lessons that you do as the “student.” This class allowed me to create actual lessons that I use in my classroom, and it really helped me get the project going. However, I can tell you that this project has been one of my favorite projects and the most fulfilling things I have ever done with my students in 17 years of education.

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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