West Chicago teachers make legislative simulation work remotely for senior class

  • West Chicago High School teacher John Chisholm addresses students, congratulating them for a great legislative session.

    West Chicago High School teacher John Chisholm addresses students, congratulating them for a great legislative session. Courtesy of District 94

 
 
Updated 1/25/2021 3:01 PM

For 27 years, West Chicago Community High School American Government teachers have prepared senior students to "live" democracy through the award-winning, semesterlong legislative simulation.

Yet, during a global pandemic, teachers were challenged to find a way to continue the highly successful tradition that engages students by "living" government, rather than just reading about it.

 

Once it was determined that students were not going to be attending in-person classes during first semester, American Government teachers John Chisholm, Bobbie Felfle, and Candace Fikis were implored by senior students to find a way to make the simulation work remotely.

"From the beginning of the semester, students asked us if we were going to do the legislative simulation because they knew it was a senior tradition in Government," said teacher Candace Fikis.

"They got online at 6 a.m. to secure their political topics they were passionate about, worked outside of school hours to research their issue and advocate on its behalf, and so many students stepped up to be leaders, from committee chairs to caucus leaders to the speaker of the House.

"It was their enthusiasm for political action that drove us to re-imagine this simulation online."

The teachers re-imagined committee hearings and held them virtually Dec. 18. Based on how successful that day went, they agreed to move ahead with a virtual full session. While preparing for committee hearings, students told the teachers they were excited to be doing a "traditional" senior year experience, and it provided some students some extra motivation to be sure they were caught up in class.

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Technology integration specialist Dave Clarke, left, and teacher Candace Fikis work to keep the "war room" simulation running smoothly.
Technology integration specialist Dave Clarke, left, and teacher Candace Fikis work to keep the "war room" simulation running smoothly. - Courtesy of District 94

As the school's technology integration specialist, Dave Clarke was challenged with how to manage half of the senior class, almost 250 students, in an online experience that could keep students engaged, allowed increased participation opportunities, and allowed all of the roles in a legislative full session to be carried out.

"While many other programs were unfortunate casualties of the pandemic," teacher John Chisholm said, "the students, government team, and Mr. Clarke banded together to make this senior simulation a resounding success."

Clarke created a "war room" that was key to the management of this large undertaking on Jan. 13. With multiple Chromebooks connecting groups of students by not only political affiliation, but by strict, moderate, or centrist to further define their beliefs, students were able to caucus for discussion prior to taking a vote.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In addition, all students were able to see and hear those testifying, view presentations, and see vote tallies as they came in.

"Watching the students in live time in our 'war room' with multiple computers open was an amazing experience," Chisholm said. What they were able to simulate and accomplish should give our democracy hope for the future."

The legislative simulation "war room" at West Chicago Community High School.
The legislative simulation "war room" at West Chicago Community High School. - Courtesy of District 94

The bills written by the first semester senior class that made it to the full session were:

• HB119: Restore Voting Rights for Felons

• HB111: Ban Assault Weapons

• HB120: Mask Mandates

• HB125: Zero Tolerance for Teens Driving with Alcohol

• HB126: Police Repurposing

To read the details of these bills, visit sites.google.com/d94.org/2021governmentcaucus/home.

The bills that passed? Mask Mandates and Zero Tolerance for Teens Driving with Alcohol.

"In this very polarized political environment we live in, it was refreshing to hear our students agree and disagree with one another on controversial issues, yet do it in a civil and respectful manner that impressed all the adults who observed the simulation," Fikis said.

"In our reflection after the mock full session, students repeatedly said that one of the things they liked best about this simulation was the ability to hear what others think, even if they disagreed with them. It really made them take a closer look at the issue."

That is what teachers know is accomplished in the in-person legislative simulation, but hoped it could still be accomplished online. And with a little technological magic, it did.

"Civil discourse and respect for others is alive and well here at Wego," Chisholm said.

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