Students Address Daylight Savings Through Service Learning

by Mary Ellen Daneels and Logan Ridenour

This past July, the Civics Is Back newsletter featured Logan Ridenour from Carlinville High School, an Illinois Democracy School, for their service learning project to end Daylight Savings in Illinois. Logan credited he Civics Is Back professional development workshops he has attended over the years, incorporating tools such as Root Cause Tree Analysis to “tweak” his Civic Action Project. Logan explained, “All of my students, including this group, have said they enjoy the project because it is very student-centered, and it allows them to explore their connections to the community and the processes necessary for enacting change. My students learned that they can put things into action by furthering their own understanding of the systems that govern their lives.” At the time, Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) took the students’ service-learning project and introduced Senate Bill 533. The students testified at the Capitol and their bill received a unanimous vote out of committee.

Logan has since joined the #CivicsInTheMiddle team as a Civics Instructional Coach to “pay forward” and share what he has learned over the years with teachers in Alexander, Clinton, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Marion, Monroe, Perry, Pulaski, Randolph, St. Clair, Union, Washington & Williamson Counties.

Logan describes his service-learning experience below and gives us an exciting update!
Last Spring my students at Carlinville High School embarked on their service learning project for the Senior Civics class. A group of students decided that they wanted to deal with the topic of Daylight Savings Time. These students put together a well-researched presentation and decided that they wanted to reach out to their state senator. Senator Andy Manar made a visit to CHS and sat down with the students. After their presentation, Sen. Manar asked the students if they wanted him to introduce their topic as a bill to be heard by the General Assembly. Senate Bill 533 went through the typical legislative process and the students were invited to Springfield to testify in front of the State Executive committee. The bill was tabled until this fall session and Tuesday, November 12, 2019, it passed the Senate floor with a 44-2 vote. I am proud of the efforts of my students. This is what service-learning looks like at its finest.
The Carlinville Service-Learning project has been featured in both local and Chicagoland news outlets. As the bill heads toward the Illinois House of Representatives, #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms can join this service learning project by doing their own research and contacting their state legislator to share their thoughts on the bill.

What does service-learning look like in your classroom? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Count Me In: Schools as Critical Partners in #Census2020

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

The stakes could not be higher for Illinois in the upcoming census. As Shawn Healy shared in a blog post almost a year ago, “According to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, $800 billion of federal funding supporting 300 programs is appropriated annually to states based on census counts. Due to Illinois’ undercount in 2010, the state lost $952 per person of federal funding. In 2015 alone, Illinois lost $122 million for every 1% of the population we failed to count.”

Shawn continues to explain, “It’s widely known that Illinois is losing population in recent years, with losses most pronounced outside of metropolitan Chicago. In fact, 89 of Illinois’ 102 counties experienced population loss from 2010 through 2017. Rockford, Kankakee, Decatur, and Metro East (suburban St. Louis) have been particularly hard hit, while Lake County is the only Chicago area county with a shrinking population. Given the stakes of Census 2020, it’s imperative that we identify and mobilize HTC (hard to count) communities in Illinois.”

IllinoisCivics.org is hosting a free webinar this Tuesday, November 12th from 3:45-4:30 p.m. to explore how your school can play a critical role in helping all stakeholders in your community to understand the importance of an accurate count and how to navigate difficult questions your students, staff, and parents may have concerning participation.

In this webinar, we will explore how the 2020 census will play an important role in addressing essential questions related to representation, power, resource allocation, and equity that will directly impact your school community for the next decade. Learn about how this census has additional challenges related to adequate funding, reduced staffing, limited testing, and delayed communication plans.

You will also be connected to an inquiry-based lesson plan and other resources that you can use to empower your students to take informed action to support your community to register an accurate count. If you cannot join us live, a recording will be shared via social media with the #CivicsInTheMiddle hashtag.

The 2020 Census provides K-12 civics classrooms an opportunity to engage in inquiry leading to informed action around issues of power and representation. Here are some other resources you can use to engage your community.

Classroom Resources

  • IllinoisCivics.org has created a 6-12 Inquiry Lesson Plan “How Does Your Community Count on You?” explore the questions:
    • What is the purpose of the census and how does it “count” or impact my community?
    • How do numbers + lines = power for my community?
    • What are the challenges to an accurate count in my community?
    • What actions can I take to make sure my community "counts"?
  • Statistics in Schools - U.S. Census has free K-12 lessons and activities?
  • Share My Lesson: Census Lessons has compiled lessons around the 2020 census from organizations like C-SPAN, Citizens Not Spectators, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Tenement Museum.
  • Census Brain POP Debate has grades 4-12 explore BrainPOP resources to learn about the U.S. Census
  • The Los Angeles County Office of Education has created resources for grades 5-8 called "Count Me In!"
  • Rock the Vote has an information video and a pledge for students to be counted.

Understanding Census 2020 in Illinois

Community Outreach Materials

What are you doing to support an accurate count for #Census2020? Please reply below. Together we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Media Literacy Learning Opportunities Widespread at Democracy Schools, but Inequities in Access and Outcomes for Students of Color Concerning

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

On the heels of media literacy week, my analysis of 2019 student survey data from a pilot group of eleven Illinois Democracy Schools (N=3,904 students) turns next to media literacy learning opportunities and outcomes disaggregated by race/ethnicity (read the full analysis of questions related to media literacy).

  • Learned how to evaluate the credibility and reliability of news and information;
  • Learned how to find different perspectives and multiple sources of information about a current event or community issue;
  • And discussed how to tell if the information you find online is trustworthy.
However, on each of these measures white and Asian students are overrepresented at the highest frequency and Black and Latinx students at lower frequencies as illustrated in the graph below.


Most students across race and ethnicity (54%) reported discussing how to effectively share their opinion on social or political issues online twice or more in classes, yet more than a quarter of students (27%) don’t recall or have never experienced such discussions.

When it comes to responding to an issue through digital means, a majority of students (62%) don’t recall or have never done so. However, Black students (41%) lead the way in answering in the affirmative, while 71% of Latinx students answered “no” or “don’t recall.”


There is also room for improvement at selected Democracy Schools in improving students’ efficacy examining research related to problems in their school or community. While a plurality of students (39%) expressed confidence in their research skills, white and Asian students are overrepresented in their efficacy, while a plurality of Black (41%) and Latinx students (46%) rate their capacities as “neutral.”


News consumption and civic engagement is trending online, and it’s imperative that students develop the skills and dispositions to make sense of daily deluge of digital information at their fingertips. A sample of students at Illinois Democracy Schools suggests relatively strong exposure to media literacy learning opportunities, but equitable access across race and ethnicity is an issue. This may translate into lower media literacy efficacy for Black and especially Latinx students. The relatively high use of digital issue advocacy by Black students is an asset to be leveraged, and lower usage by Latinx students cause for immediate intervention.

Illinois Democracy Schools Largely Embracing Lived Civics Principles, but Civic Empowerment Gap Persists

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Since 2006, the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, convened by the McCormick Foundation, has recognized 74 Illinois high schools as Democracy Schools. The recognition process has evolved significantly, broadening civics to a cross-curricular priority, measuring the organizational culture undergirding students’ civic learning experiences, and most recently, centering racial equity through a lived civics framework and disaggregating student survey data by race/ethnicity.

This spring, eleven members of our Democracy Schools Network piloted a revised student survey and schoolwide assessment process. What follows is a summary of trends in the student survey data, disaggregated by race (read the full analysis of questions related to lived civics).

The sample of 3,904 students was broadly representative of Illinois’ demographic and geographic diversity. White and Latinx students were slightly overrepresented, and Black students underrepresented. Students of two or more races, Asian students, Pacific Islanders, and American Indian students were significantly overrepresented. Because students were allowed to select more than one racial/ethnic identification, all racial subgroups may be modestly overrepresented.



Students were asked a battery of questions about the design of their classes and teaching strategies used within. For the most part, students rated their courses highly through the lens of lived civics, but there remains significant room for growth. For example, the vast majority of students (76%) report learning about the culture and history of people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds “sometimes” to “often,” yet white students are most likely to select “often.”


Fewer students reported learning about “people like me that are making or have made a difference in (their) community,” nearly two-thirds (65%) suggesting “rarely” to “sometimes,” but Black and Latinx students are the highest among those who selected “often.”


Similarly, most students are neutral to in agreement (69% combined) that teachers make time in class to discuss important issues in their community, with Black and Latinx students more likely to be neutral than their white and Asian peers.


On measures of school climate, students provided more mixed reviews across a battery of questions, exemplified by their neutral-to-agreeable (65% of students) response to, “Adults in my school treat all students fairly regardless of background or identity.” Mirroring concerns about disproportionality in exclusionary discipline by race/ethnicity, Black and Latinx students were most likely to offer a neutral response to this question and least likely to agree strongly.


Turning to student voice, a plurality of students (35%), led by Black and Latinx students and students of two or more races, are neutral when it comes to their ability to express views and highlight important issues through the school newspaper or student media. However, white and Asian students are significantly more likely to agree and agree strongly in response to this question.


When it comes to political action and expression, most students are on the proverbial sidelines, the exception being an even split between students saying that they have participated in a decision-making process at school. Black and white students were disproportionately more likely to answer this question in the affirmative and Latinx students in the negative.


Half of students reported volunteering in the community, but Asian (57%) and White students (59%) are significantly more likely to say “yes,” and Black (40%) and Latinx students (45%) “no.”


Upon turning 18, the vast majority of students (72%) plan to vote regularly, but white students (77%) are significantly more likely to answer in the affirmative. By comparison, students of two or more races (28%) have dramatically higher numbers answering in the negative, with students of color across the board more likely to report uncertainty.


Finally, across multiple measures of cognitive engagement with politics, Black and Latinx students shared less agreement, and more neutrality, than their Asian, and especially white peers. For example, when asked if “…by participating in politics I can make a difference,” Black, Latinx, and students of two of more races were more likely than white and Asian students to answer neutrally, while the latter two groups led among students in agreement.

In summary, our sample of Democracy Schools have strong evidence that a lived civics curriculum is taking root, yet there is significant room for growth, and a need to ensure that civic learning opportunities are offered equitably to all students. Schools should pay attention to inequitable opportunities and experiences with respect to student voice and school climate for students of color, Black and Latinx students in particular. Schools’ overall middling performance in these two categories make them priorities for the larger Democracy Schools Network to address.

The most alarming findings in this survey are evidence a stubborn civic empowerment gap across a range of measures of students’ current and prospective civic engagement. Equal inputs don’t necessarily translate into equal outcomes, highlighting the important distinction between equality and equity.

What can be done to make the quantity and quality of civic learning opportunities more equitable across race and ethnicity? And to what extent might school climates failing on measures of inclusivity and nondiscrimination undermine the benefits of relatively equal civic learning opportunities?

Future data analysis and posts will attempt to begin answering these questions, as will teachers and administrators within our Democracy Schools Network as we collectively work to eliminate the civic empowerment gap.

Resources for Media Literacy

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

October 21-25th marks the 5th Annual U.S. Media Literacy Week. The mission of Media Literacy Week is to raise awareness about the need for media literacy education and its essential role in education today. Organizations, schools, and educators from all over the country will be sharing resources via #MediaLitWk. In the 2017 report, “The Republic is (Still) at Risk—and Civics is Part of the Solution”, cites media literacy as a complementary stream of civic education. The report explains:
...young people are increasingly empowered to influence the topics and stories that are widely shared. At the same time, they are deluged with unreliable information and actual propaganda, and research shows that most young people perform poorly at distinguishing fake news from reliable news. This skill can be taught effectively in schools, and students can learn to be effective producers of news. Given these recent developments, the need for news media literacy education is acute.
Media literacy is central to #CivicsInTheMiddle work. Students must learn how to be wise consumers of information; as well as practice how to engage with and produce information. Here are some resources to support #MedLitWk and media literacy throughout the year.
  • National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), organizes #MediaLitWk and supports information literacy year-round.
  • The News Literacy Project has lesson plans, archived webinars and a digital platform called Checkology that can be used in one-to-many or one-to-one. classrooms. Don’t forget to subscribe to their weekly newsletter called The Sift for weekly updates on “teachable moments” related to news literacy.
  • iCivics has curriculum units for middle and high school classrooms on news literacy, as well as media and influence. The NewsFeed Defenders game engages students to learn how to spot a variety of methods behind the viral deception we all face today.
  • The Stanford History Education Group has created assessments of civic online reasoning—the ability to judge the credibility of digital information about social and political issues.
  • Crash Course has a 12-part video series on Media Literacy.
  • Newseum ED has wonderful infographics for classroom use as well as lesson plans.
  • Facing History and Ourselves partnered with the News Literacy Project to create a timely unit on media literacy called “Facing Ferguson” that is appropriate for high school students.
  • The American Press Institute has activities and lesson plans for all ages.
  • This link from Edutopia has vetted a 5-minute film festival with nine videos on news literacy.
  • LAMP, or Learning about Multimedia Project, has materials that shine a light to “challenge stereotypes, fake news and more.”
  • The Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University has a Digital Resource Center that teachers can sign up for to curate resources for classroom use.
What resources do you use to support the complementary practice of media literacy? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career and civic life.

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Resources to Understand the U.S. Supreme Court

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist

Image by Mark Thomas from Pixabay
Monday marks the start of a new term for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The 2019-20 term is sure to provide many teachable moments as SCOTUS takes up issues related to immigration, abortion, gun rights, and LGBTQ workplace discrimination. For #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms, there are plenty of opportunities to use the courts to engage in the proven practices of civic education embedded in both the middle and high school civics mandates. Here are some resources to start with.

Direct Instruction on the Supreme Court
  • The official website for the United States Supreme Court allows access to a variety of information on the Court, including a calendar and schedule for the current term, and the audio from oral arguments, posted each Friday after arguments take place. There is also an overview of the Supreme Court where you can research the Court’s procedures and biographies of justices.
  • iCivics has a curriculum packet on the judicial branch that explores the courts’ role in settling disputes and administering justice, and the unique role of the U.S. Supreme Court in interpreting the U.S. Constitution.
  • The National Constitution Center has a Judge Chats lesson plan in which students explore the requisite skills necessary to become a judge that can lead to an informed conversation with a visiting judge.
  • Annenberg Foundation has a lesson plan on judicial independence in which students consider the importance of an independent judiciary to the preservation of constitutional democracy and the quality of life for all Americans.
  • The American Bar Association Division for Public Education has differentiated lessons for both middle and high school students on justice and the rule of law.
  • PBS Learning Media Illinois has lesson plans related to the importance of precedents, civil rights & civil liberties, federalism, and landmark cases.
  • For more resources around landmark SCOTUS cases in history, peruse the offerings from the Annenberg Foundation, the Bill of Rights Institute, and Street Law with the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Simulations of Democratic Processes
  • Street Law has ready to go resources to support students engaging in moot courts, mini-moot courts, the issuance of the writ of certiorari, and other judicial processes.
  • The Constitutional Rights Foundation has several powerpoint presentations on free expression cases to prepare students to participate in a moot court.
  • iCivics has online games to simulate the workings of the court including Supreme Decision, Argument Wars, and Court Quest.
Current and Societal Issue Discussions
  • ABA Division for Public Education publishes a Supreme Court Preview plain-language analysis of all cases given a plenary review by the Supreme Court in advance of oral argument using a combination of charts, statistics, case summaries, and essays.
  • The New York Times Supreme Court site contains news articles about recent SCOTUS decisions. The site also contains links to articles relating to each of the Justices, interactive multimedia features, and a summary of the notable cases from the present term.
  • More Perfect Podcast, from WNYC and Radiolab, tells the stories underlying important Supreme Court decisions, how those decisions affect the lives of the American people.
  • Street Law has resources for students to explore two pending cases before the court, Bostock v. Clayton County, GA & Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Aimee Stephens.
  • The Oyez website has a succinct summary of all cases to be argued this term.
  • Dan Fouts in his Socrates Questions blog has created some sample prompts for the Supreme Court comparison FRQ that leads to a larger discussion around the question, “How does the Supreme Court make sure that the law stays stable but doesn’t stand still?”
What resources do you use to support instruction on SCOTUS? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career and civic life.

Classroom Resources to Understand Impeachment

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist

Last night, my Twitter feed was abuzz with colleagues seeking out grade-level appropriate materials to help students understand the process of impeachment. The information around this current and controversial issue is changing daily with competing narratives from the left and the right. This teachable moment IS political, but it does not have to be partisan. Here are a few resources that you can start with.
  • “A look at past impeachment proceedings” and how they’ve ended from PBS News Hour gives a historical perspective on impeachment.
  • The lesson, “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” from the Constitutional Rights Foundation has both background information and a simulation of a House Judiciary Committee determining if an act rises to the level of impeachable.
  • Khan Academy has an explainer video on Impeachment as does TedEd.
  • Annenberg Classroom has a historical timeline of past impeachments starting with Judge Samuel Chase.
  • Episode 10 of the Civics 101 Podcast tackles some of the common questions surrounding impeachment.
  • The American Bar Association Division for Public Education has an FAQ on Impeachment.
  • AllSides has curated news items from all sides of the spectrum to understand current events surrounding impeachment.
What resources do you find useful to help students understand impeachment? Please comment below.Together, we can prepare students for college, career, and civic life.