By BRANDON LaCHANCE
MENDOTA – On the northwest side of the Mendota High School library's wall, there is a banner.
It doesn't have anything to do with a fictional character.
Or a way to construct a poem.
And it doesn't have a MHS or Trojan logo.
Instead, it states Mendota is a democracy school deeply involved with teaching and executing civics, as MHS is now part of the Democracy School Network.
“I was already working pretty closely with a lot of these people that overlap with the Democracy School Network,” said MHS social studies teacher Jason Artman, who has been an Illinois civic mentor for the Regional Office of Education and a civics instructional coach over the last six years. “The Democracy School Network really started in the suburbs. Since you're bringing a group of people together who are passionate about civic education from across the state, democracy schools would constantly come up in those conversations.
“It went on hold for a few years when the whole world was put on hold due to COVID-19. Last year, they started accepting schools again to become democracy schools. We went through the process and were one of three that became democracy schools accepted this year on Sept. 15 in Lisle.”
Artman noted former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner passed a bill six years ago that required high schools to teach civics. A bill signed by J.B. Pritzker passed three years ago for civics to be taught in middle schools.
Through the bills, presentations, mentorship, coaching, and the process of making civics a staple of Mendota education, Artman understands the importance of becoming part of the Democracy School Network and is sharing the importance of civics throughout the Mendota school system.
“It's not that you have to teach an exact curriculum because there isn't a statewide curriculum for civics, but it's using certain strategies and exposing students to other ways of thinking that will help them become consumers of democracy, and hopefully get them to participate in democracy,” Artman said. “Joining the Democracy School Network opens us up as a high school to take a reflective look at things. In order to become a democracy school we had to poll students and everyone who works at MHS. The surveys were to help us figure out where we think civics is happening in the building across 11 areas that democracy schools focus on, which includes the classroom, the curriculum, the extra-curricular activities, presence in the hallways, the school's relationship with the community, and teachers’ relationship with the community.
“The idea is civic learning goes far beyond the classroom and it certainly doesn't only happen in social studies classrooms. Going through that process helped a lot of our teachers realize the things that we were already doing in terms of pushing civic skills. The idea is civics and being a citizen is far more than participating in politics that can become ugly and partisan.”
Civic skills MHS is coordinating with students and teachers are the ability to deal with people, cooperating with people, working together for one cause with others, and listening to ideas outside of your own.
With being part of the Democracy School Network, Artman and all Mendota teachers will have the resources and guidance to educate each student on the importance of civics, civic skills, and civic duties.
“To be a part of this network, to me that's what's really the lasting thing that can happen to us here at MHS,” Artman said. “We're part of something that has grown to be very strong. Illinois is a leader across the country in civic education and the proactive approach we're taking.
“To have access to people who have knowledge on how to do things and to have access to sharing things with our staff that is provided by the Democracy School Network are all things that are going to help.”
Mendota has set a few goals to accomplish over the next five years.
MHS wants to make its faculty aware civics are happening all around them so they can help spread the awareness to students.
Also, through civics learning and actions, the school wants to strengthen its ties within the community.