From our dear friend Mary Ellen Daneels with Illinois Civics:

Civics is all around us. There is a lot to know about the government and how “We the People” interact with the government and each other. Programming at the Lou Frey Institute (LFI)  is designed to help the youngest members of our communities expand their civic literacy. 

LFI has developed in partnership with the Illinois Civics Hub, the Guardians of Democracy Program is an online professional development program with extended learning opportunities for interested 6-12 educators. Dr. Shakeba Shields, an instructional coach at Orange County Public Schools has participated in the pilot program. She recently helped 7th-grade students in a Civics course at a Title 1 school explore the essential question, “Are schools doing enough to curb crime in the community?” This endeavor allowed students to apply their civic knowledge and skills, aligned to Florida’s Civics End of Course Assessment, to help make, “a more perfect union.” 

We asked Dr. Shields to explain a bit more about this experiential learning that encouraged the development of civic and political skills. Here are her responses to the questions we posed.

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

This project helped to deepen students’ understanding of the second amendment. Students were able to evaluate the pros and cons of gun control and consider how schools can help with ensuring students are safe in their communities. 

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

Students completed Harvard University’s Implicit Bias test on weapons and gained some  insight into their own biases regarding who and what poses danger. They were to  carefully classify items as weapons or harmless immediately after seeing a Black or Whiteface. The students were surprised to learn that as with many other respondents,  they too have some hidden views of Blacks having weapons. In our discussion of our topic students drew attention to several issues in the community that contributes to crimes. These include poverty, lack of access, insufficient lighting, deplorable buildings, and family attitudes. 

What comes next? What did students identify as future opportunities to address this issue?

The students created a survey with possible solutions to address the issue such as starting new clubs on campus and increasing security at school and police presence in the community. However, the most glaring response involved bullying. Students believed that school leaders had a major role to play in curbing community crime by focusing on students who are being bullied. This is due to the fact that many off-campus fights occur due to on-campus and online bullying.  Almost 90% of the 129 respondents agreed that the schools needed to pay more attention to this issue and these students. 

Did you receive any feedback from your community on this project?

  • “This shows us that our kids actually have solutions and are able to lead.” Administrator 
  • “What a heavy topic? I’m glad to see that they handled it so well.” Teacher
  • “I like coming up with these ideas. It makes me feel important.” Student

What advice would you give teachers thinking about opportunities for engaging their students in applying knowledge and skills to better their community?

My advice to other teachers would be to start small and include the students in EVERY step of the process. You will be surprised how interested they are in being a part of these types of projects. 

Thank you to Dr. Shields for taking the time to talk with us! You can learn more about the free Guardians of Democracy professional development program here!