Monday, April 29, 2013

The New Civics Taking Root in Chicago

The April 2013 edition of  The Progress of Education Reform, published by The Education Commission of the States, provides a look at the new civics and how it differs from previous practices in civic education According to the article, civic education has long been a central element of K-12 curricula.  "American schools typically required student to complete multiple courses in civics and government."  However, civics was also typically delivered through "textbook-based classroom lectures centered on civic knowledge."  Today, an Illinois student can graduate from high school without ever having taken a civics or government class.  Illinois is one of only ten states without a civics or government requirement.

Chicago Public Schools is working to reverse the trend of "old civics" and no civics.  With funding support from the McCormick and Spencer Foundations, CPS launched the Global Citizenship Initiative in August 2012.  The Global Citizenship Initiative currently works with 16 district high schools to breathe new life into the civic mission of schools. Based on researched-based six proven practices of the new civics - service-learning, discussion of controversial issues and current events, extracurricular activities, participation in school governance, classroom instruction in civics and government, and simulations of the democratic process - CPS provides professional development, curricular resources, access to civic resources, participation in multi-school civic learning events, and technical support.

The most recent opportunity for GCI teachers and students was a visit from former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -  O'Connor discussed her time on on the Supreme Court and her post-Supreme Court vocation to strengthen civic education in American schools.  Earlier in the semester, Alcott students were able to receive Mayor Rahm Emmanuel in their classroom for a discussion on gun control issues.

Alcott High School students were able to discuss the value of civic education in schools.  One student wrote:  "I find my civics class very intriguing.  I am learning how to become an active citizen and be a participating in the process of bettering my community."  Another wrote:  "I would like to let you know how grateful I am to participate in this civics course.  It demonstrated an opportunity to change things in our communities that impact or concerns us the most."  Civic education is about academic learning in the best possible way; it allows students to develop the skills and learn that they can change the world.

During the 2012-13 academic year, our 16 GCI schools are expected to implement a year-long capstone course for seniors - civics and financial literacy, and facilitate a Student Voice Committee.  The Student Voice Committee meets regularly with the school principal throughout the school year to address school improvement issues.

Teachers are already planning for the second year of GCI during which we will introduce a Global Issues course for high school students along with a revised Civics and Financial Literacy Course.

For more information, contact Jon Schmidt at 773.553-6391 or

Saturday, April 6, 2013

CPS Culminates Chavez Month with Commemorative March Through Pilsen

CPS students completed a month-long observance of Cesar E. Chavez month by gathering at Juarez Community Academy on Saturday, April 06, 2013.  Cultural dancers began the day by honoring the leaders who have fought for justice throughout the generations.

Following the opening ceremony, students participated in workshops designed to help students explore the connection between Chavez and current issues facing our communities.  Many of the workshop focused on the arts and enabled students to create posters, drums, etc. that were used during a commemorative march through Pilsen.

In 1966, Cesar Chavez and farmworker activists embarked on a 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento.  The intent of the march was to draw attention to the injustices suffered by farmworkers in California.  As the farmworkers approached the state capitol in Sacramento, one of the major vineyards agreed to recognize the farmworker's union - a major victory for the United Farm Workers. But Chavez was not just interested in marching for justice for farm workers, he was also deeply committed to the values of faith and a commitment to non-violence that he wanted to re-assert in the movement.    CPS students on Saturday conducted their own march punctuated by chants, drums, and calls for justice to affirm the work of Chavez and practice their own first amendment rights.

Throughout the month of March, more than 1400 CPS students participated in service and action projects across the city.  Each of the 45 projects directly connected to the life, work and values of Cesar E. Chavez.  Students served in food pantries, marched with union laborers and groups demanding immigration reform, worked with immigrants preparing for their citizenship exams, packaged goods for re-distribution in the community, worked with children on literacy skills, and gathered stories of immigrants.

For the ninth consecutive year, CPS honors this great leader.  Cesar E. Chavez embodied so many of the values that continue to be important as communities struggle to find and assert their identities and engage in the struggle for justice.  Los estudiantes estan in la lucha por justicia!  We raise and answer the question:  Companeros se puede?  Si, se puede!

Monday, April 1, 2013

CPS Students Learn/Serve During Alternative Spring Break

Twenty-five CPS high school students spent their 2013 Spring Break in the community of Pilsen, a working-class neighborhood on Chicago's south side, that has been a port of entry for Mexican immigrants for decades.

The purpose of the CPS Alternative Spring Break is to expose students to one of Chicago's fascinating communities and enable students to explore that community in some depth.  As they learned about Pilsen, students served in community organizations - a senior center, homeless shelter, children's program, art program, environmental justice initiative and community activist center - and met with community leaders to learn about their commitment to Pilsen and how they personally work to serve the community.

The week began with community building at a local park district site.  Students were challenged to get to know their peers from around the city, identify their core values, engage in problem solving, and have fun with each other.

Students debrief a community building activity
Students also had an opportunity to learn about and practice their first amendment rights.  They created signs and posters for the children's march for immigration reform, a 1500 strong demonstration in Chicago's Loop, and, subsequently, marched with teachers, parents, and other students the following day to protest the closing of 53 schools in Chicago.

Students express their solidarity with immigrant families facing deportation
As students studied the community, they learned about the issue of gentrification.  Pilsen, over the last decade, has lost some 25% of its Mexican-American population as more white people move into the neighborhood.  The process of gentrification has raised rents and property tax levels forcing some former residents to leave the community.  To gain some insight to the problem, students listened to a report by WBEZ reporter Linda Lutton that provided some context to the issue:  Students participated in a "philosophical chairs" discussion designed to strengthen active listening skills as students discuss their own thinking about gentrification.  The level of sophistication with which the students argued was impressive indeed.

Students at St. Pius Church discussing community issues
Students completed the week by participating in reflection and evaluation exercises.  They gave high marks to CPS for a week that gave them new insights into the community of Pilsen and their own capacities to make change in the world.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

High School Science Teachers Explore Place Based Education as Service-Learning Strategy

More than 40 high school science teachers gathered at one of Chicago's most unique park facilities to learn about how place based education can engage and transform students ability to understand and feel connected to their community. 

Teachers collaborate on tool safety during an ice breaker activity

McGuane Park, located on the city's near south side, is carved out of a former rock quarry and features a fishing pond, natural water drainage system, restored natural prairie area, and some of the very few sledding hills in the city. 

Field Museum educator Laura Milkert discusses water quality testing with teachers

Despite 10 inches of snow on the previous evening, the science teachers braved the elements to learn about place based education and its connection to service-learning.  Educational leaders from Friends of the River, Alliance of Great Lakes, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, De LaSalle High School, The Field Museum, the University of Wisconsin/Stevens Point guided teachers through experiential learning activities that utilize the outdoors to help them engage their own students in learning and service opportunities.  Place based education helps students apply learning in local settings, make positive contributions to their community, feel a deeper sense of connection to place, and, in the words of one teacher, "help immigrant students begin to establish a feeling of connection to this country." 

The Adopt-an-Ecosystem professional development was led by Samantha Mattone of the Department of Literacy's Democracy Learning and Student Leadership Team. Adopt-an-Ecosystem is a collaboration among city environmental organizations to bring high quality service-learning experiences to CPS middle and high school students.  Member organizations include Friends of the River, Friends of the Parks, Alliance of Great Lakes, The Field Museum, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, and Friends of the Forest Preserves. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

CPS Student Leaders Dialogue with Principals at Harris Fellows Summit

More than 125 CPS student leaders from 12 schools around the city met with high school principals to discuss important school improvement issues.  Clemente High School hosted the Summit as students worked together to discuss and deliberate on four broad issue areas before presenting their ideas and recommendations to principals.

Students participate in team building activity with principals

The third annual summit focused on the following issues:
  1. Classroom Instruction
  2. Student Voice and Leadership
  3. Restorative Justice
  4. Community Building in Classrooms
Students named these issues as opportunities to build better relationships at schools and engage more deeply in academic learning.  Students recognize the power of positive relationships in schools among students, teachers, and administrators in order to achieve desired academic gains.  Students also recognized the important of including student voice more regularly in important school decisions. 

As students discussed and deliberated with their peers and with principals, they developed recommendations in each area:
  1. Classroom Instruction - Teachers should be encouraged to enforce classroom rules consistently and provide engaging lesson plans that are project-oriented, promote classroom discussion, and involve everyone in learning.
  2. Student Voice and Leadership - Every CPS high school should have a Student Voice Committee with more support from faculty and staff where that is lacking.
  3. Restorative Justice - Adults should work to listen to problems students are experiencing and work to de-escalate tensions and not resort to suspensions.  Students should seek out adults to sponsor restorative justice programs at their schools.
  4. Community Building in Classrooms - A panel of students should present ideas and recommendations at Network Chief meetings and teachers and students should spend up to 5 minutes every day discussion teen social issues with the goal of building positive relationships and help students focus.

Principals listen to student ideas on classroom community building

The Harris Fellows Student/Principal Summit was the third annual gathering of students and principals.  A video of the 2nd Annual Summit is available at  Harris Fellows student leaders work to develop leadership skills and capacities among students and provide opportunities for students to articulate and express their concerns and ideas to powerful people.  This year Harris Fellows is focusing efforts on building Student Voice Committees at 16 high schools currently participating in the Global Citizenship Initiative.   For more information contact Cristina Salgado at

King Month of Social Action Mobilizes Hundreds of CPS Students

CPS high school students and teachers engaged in various service-learning projects to honor the work and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Month of Social Action in January 2013.  King and fellow civil rights leaders worked tirelessly to bring social change to America.  CPS service-learning projects were designed to connect with themes of the civil rights movement and give students a chance to practice civic skills in their communities.   Projects during the month included working at neighborhood food pantries, writing letters to the Congress about handgun violence, making peace flags, learning about and practicing peaceful solutions to conflict with members of the Grey Panthers, conducting peace rallies, and more.
Alternatives, Inc. worked with Chicago Academy High School students on restorative justice ideas and strategies.  Hope Lassen, a youth worker at Alternatives, helped students understand how to address conflict and rebuild relationships in a safe, restorative manner.  One Chicago Academy High School teacher reflected on the students’ experience: The students who went on the trip learned a lot about themselves and felt that it was beneficial to their time. I am excited about the idea of taking methods learned at Alternatives, Inc. and implementing them at Chicago Academy High School.
Westinghouse High School students participated in a Play for Peace project led by Kendra Bostick.  Play for Peace is an international organization promoting peace through compassion games and experiential learning activities.  One activity - connection circle - allows students to express themselves and find connections with each other. By the end of the activity the students stood linked arm in arm as a symbol of unity.  Adyna Jackson, Service-Learning Coach at Westinghouse, said her students gained a lot from the Play for Peace project because they had the opportunity to learn more about each other and discuss problems at their school and potential solutions.
Schurz High School students spent a day with the Illinois Council for Handgun Violence learning about handgun issues and made important connections to the values and work of Martin Luther King. By the end of the project, students wrote letters to legislators addressing issues such as bullying, domestic violence and handgun violence. A few of the students mentioned how they never had much of a chance to discuss these problems before or take specific steps to address them.
Other CPS students volunteered at the DuSable Museum of African American History on King Day, worked with Kids Off The Block on a violence prevention campaign, joined the Council on American and Islamic Relations on an anti-discrimination campaign, and served senior citizens breakfast and interviewed them about their own experiences during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.
More than 20 students groups from CPS participated in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Month of Social Action.  They learned about the work of King and the civil rights leaders by exploring various organizing strategies, connected their learning to work in their communities, and participated in follow-up discussions to debrief their experiences.  King said that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  CPS students lived out that faith during January by working in their communities to bring more understanding, more compassion, more justice. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hancock and Lincoln Park Students Kick-Off Cesar Chavez Month of Service

Students from Lincoln Park and Hancock High Schools spent their Saturday mornings kicking off the 8th annual CPS Cesar E. Chavez Month of Service.  Each year students from across the city participate in service projects designed to honor the life and legacy of our great civil rights leader, Cesar E. Chavez.  Chavez founded the United Farm Workers union at a time when most critics said it was impossible to organize poor migrant workers who toiled to bring produce to American tables.  Chavez' response:  Si, se puede.  Indeed, using non-violent strategies learned from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, Chavez organized in the southwest and the work impacted the entire country.

Hancock students "playing for peace"
Students from Hancock High School spent their Saturday morning on March 2, working with the non-profit organization Play for Peace.  The goal of Play for Peace is to bring groups together to learn how to build peace through cooperative games.   Hancock students learned about leadership, cooperation, collaboration, and the spirit of non-violence and were challenged to bring their new skills back to their high school to carry forward the tradition of Cesar E. Chavez. 

While Hancock students were hard at work, World Language students from Lincoln Park were paired with adults studying the citizenship exam at Erie Neighborhood House in Bucktown.  While students coached the adults on the exam (100 questions about American government and history), they also had the opportunity to practice their language skills and interview the prospective citizens about their journeys to America. 

More than 50 student groups will be serving throughout the city during March, to celebrate the spirit of Cesar Chavez through service.  April 6 will feature the culminating activity in Pilsen where students will create various works of art to remember Chavez and his work then march peacefully through the streets of Pilsen to commemorate the fasts and marches of the Chavez and the United Farm Workers.  

Lincoln Park students working with immigrants to prepare for citizenship exams

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

CPS/ACE Students March on Washington to Demand Action on Climate Change

The Alliance for Climate Education is one of Service-Learning's top partner organizations.  More commonly known as ACE, a national student movement to address global warming, the organization seeks to educate young people about climate change and mobilize them for action.  In Chicago that means students conduct carbon audits and then mobilize to reduce the school community's carbon footprint.  These actions range from starting recycling programs in their school to launching a DOT (Do One Thing) campaign to reduce energy consumption.

Two super activist CPS students were thrilled to learn they would accompany an ACE delegation to Washington DC on February 17, 2013, to participate in the largest climate change rally (40,000 strong) in the country's history.  Fiona McRaith from Whitney Young and Sara Kruse from Northside Prep - -  marched alongside climate activist Bill McKibben, founder of, throughout the demonstration and demanded that President Obama and Congress put an end to the Keystone XL pipeline as well as fracking, the practice of drilling 1-2 miles into the earth's surface to break up stone deposits with a combination of fresh water and toxic chemicals to enable natural gas to flow.  These practices continue the country's reliance on fossil fuels and wreak havoc on the environment.

We are grateful for the excellent partnership with ACE and the opportunity for our students to practice their first amendment rights to safeguard the environment for future generations.