District Earns Democracy Honors

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Robert R. McCormick Foundation via Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/6214741950/

Joanna Leski, Reporter

East and West Leyden have earned recognition as Democracy Schools, an honor given by the Pritzker Foundation to only thirty other Illinois schools. The honor comes as a results of the district’s successful efforts in planning a school-wide civic assessment and proposing ways to deepen its commitment to civic learning.

Even though both Leydens just became recognized this month, Social Sciences teachers Mr. Robert Fowler and Mr. Charles Skrabacz have been working hard on applying to become a Democracy School since this summer. Mr. Fowler teaches the only strictly government themed-class at Leyden, Political Science, which made him very passionate and motivated to help Leyden become a democracy school.

“The whole idea of a Democracy School is to prepare students to become more active citizens and students who are more likely to participate in their community, state, or even their country so they can go out and make the world a better place,” Fowler explained.

The Pritzker Foundation, based in Chicago, supports different educational opportunities for students. One of the various educational opportunities they offer for our Illinois schools is the funding and creation of these Democracy Schools.

“Democracy schools play a more intentional role in teaching students about our government and how it works and how to be a participatory citizen. This means there will be a much greater connection to government and civics and citizenship present in our school curriculum,” principal Mr. Jason Markey commented.

One way that clear connection will be achieved is the creation of a new civics course, a government-focused social studies course that will be required in the future. “Students would be provided with more opportunities to think critically about what’s going on in our government and understand it more thoroughly. A lot of times students just hear about big issues thrown out from the government whether it is something that has happened in our country or even internationally. We don’t take the time as a school to understand or even think about these things, and a democracy school would do just that: allow our students to think about those things with peer support and teacher support.” Markey proposed.

Not only would students be able to discuss government affairs in a classroom, they would also be preparing themselves to become citizens ready to participate in our democracy after high school. Mr. Chuck Skrabacz comments, “ I chose to work for the designation because I thought that Leyden needed to assess how well we were promoting civics, and through this work grant money would be available to help us develop programs that will focus our curriculum regarding citizenship.  We are looking to create a required semester-long civics class which will allow students the opportunity to understand their government and the importance of their role in that government prior their graduation.” The earliest you’ll see this class at Leyden is the Fall of 2016 but that doesn’t stop the administrators from starting to plan for the future now. The class is being set up as we speak and some ideas are circulating to set up this civics class as a mock Congress where students will simulate law-making and the procedures behind law-making.

The students would be bringing in issues and creating laws around these issues, giving them a chance to play the roles that Congress plays out. Mr. Fowler discussed his hopes for the future: “The goal is to make it a required course so all students would be engaged. We hope to get students more active in the community and become better citizens and to make sure that when they leave high school and grow up they’ll be more likely to participate and be active and get involved in their community. After this class, students should feel more comfortable with voting, going to a student council meeting, and getting involved with a political party.”

Leyden staff members aren’t the only ones looking forward to bringing the creative ideas that will assure more Leyden students to successful participants in our democracy to life. Senior Najera Veljkovic provides some insight on how the students feel about this change, “Even though I won’t be around, I’m glad this change is taking place and I’m excited for my little brother and all his peers to be able to take the new civics class. There is only one government-themed class in all of Leyden, which is political science. Unfortunately, I had to decide between taking European History AP and Political Science and I took European AP to gain college credit. After taking Global Studies, Euro AP, United States History AP I can tell you all about the governments in Europe and America up to 1970, but after that all I know about our government now is what I learn from newspapers, T.V, and social media. This is why we need a required civics class, because I can guarantee most Leyden students have no idea how our government functions.”

Junior Yzabelle Tud adds, “We have a required health class, so why not have a required civics class? Just like it is necessary for students to learn about personal hygiene and reproduction, it should be necessary to learn about our government and its role. Both classes would teach some important life long lessons. After high school, you won’t be able to get by in the real world without being aware of current laws, voting regulations, and just basically knowing some simple information about your government . Similarly how having no health class might lead some students to not lost in the real world when it comes to reproduction and hygiene issues, without a civics class we are letting students out to the real world without any knowledge about it. I don’t think anybody would be opposed to taking a civics class.”