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.