South prepares for new civics course curriculum

Cassidy Foronda, asst. news editor

GBS is developing a civics course to fulfill Illinois’ graduation requirement, to be made available by the 2017-2018 school year.

According to Jeannie Logan, Social Studies instructional supervisor, the goal of both the legislation and the class is to increase the readiness of high school graduates who can effectively partake in civics.

“What I like about the law is that it kind of tries to accomplish what we’ve always been trying to [do] in social studies, and that’s to have informed, engaged, active citizens in society,” Logan said.

The legislation stresses four main components for the class: study of government, service learning, democratic simulations and discussion of controversial topics. According to Tara Tate, AP Government and Politics teacher, its intended purpose is to create a course that differs from usual classroom settings.

“This isn’t necessarily a class where kids are going to be reciting the Constitution and how a bill becomes a law,” Tate said. “I think we envisioned this [with] more … contemporary type of projects, activities [and] thinking about how social issues are relevant today.”

Daniel Rhoades, AP United States History teacher, attended meetings led by Sean Healy, who was one of the key people in sponsoring the law and getting it passed. According to Rhoades, these seminars offered insight on how other districts were adapting to the requirement and clarified class requirements outlined in the legislation.

“The folks that have been advocating for this change […] are responding to [the fact that] low voter turnout suggests that people lack a sense of efficacy,” Rhoades said. “This legislation is a way of trying [to increase participation].”

Though the course is currently being developed, Principal Lauren Fagel says that the grade distribution of students will likely vary, as it will be offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors. As a result, communication with parents and guidance counselors is important.

“We’re going to see where the preference falls,” Fagel said. “Hopefully it will be a nice balance between tenth and twelfth graders.”    

Because of its availability, Logan says that the course will likely add more students in AP Government, which also fulfills the civics requirement. However, its full extent is difficult to know until the class is implemented.

“One of the things I love about being at [GBS] is […] we have a lot of really special courses at the school that I think are very unique,” Logan said. “We’re really hoping those courses will stay alive and be popular and that students will still take advantage of them.”

For the students that choose to fulfill the requirement with AP Government, Rhoades says that the class requires slight modification but will not be materially different from the developing course.

“[AP Government] has to teach, in some way, shape or form, towards the AP test,” Rhoades said. “[In] the civics course itself, we won’t have that requirement and that will give us some flexibility in that regard.”

According to Tate, the class will be an important first step for students to realize that they have a voice and connection in the political process.

“Education [on civics] across the board will cause citizens to demand more of the political system, demand more of our candidates, more of our media,” Tate said. “If we are, down the road, to have discussions about changing the electoral college process or the two party system, getting students [educated] now so that when they’re older [gives] the tools to be able to engage as a public citizen in those debates.”