During uncertain times, perhaps no concept is as important as citizenship. Questions about how we live in community with others, protect each other, fairly decide between different options and use our voices to advocate for a world we want have never been so present.
Chicago Friends School, a small, independent K-8 school on Chicago’s North Side, is working to help a new generation learn to be engaged citizens of their worlds. Here are a few ways Chicago Friends School seeks to teach citizenship.
Engaging in classroom governance and taking responsibility for the school environment
For students as young as kindergarten, the year starts with conversations about what kind of classroom and experience students want, and then a class co-creates rules that help to bring about that experience. Unlike the more traditional model in which the teacher makes the rules and the children follow, this approach promotes responsibility for the school community from day one. Students have a stake in the rules they helped create and work hard to keep the community in line with them.
Learning to resolve conflict independently and responsibly
Every child experiences conflict with peers from time to time. It’s important for students of all ages to learn how to speak up for themselves when wronged, take responsibility for their actions and the harms they cause, and seek to find solutions and repair friendships. At Chicago Friends School, students learn to use “I statements” to share how they feel and ask their peers for restorative action to help mend a wrong. While adults are ready to help them do this, children at Chicago Friends School don’t rely on adult authority to fix every problem. Instead, they gain the tools to negotiate productive conflict and find resolutions.
Taking action on behalf of others
Starting with classroom jobs and culminating in individual intensive service projects, students at Chicago Friends School reflect on problems in their communities that they would like to impact and do service to better their communities. Young students are guided in picking service, but middle schoolers choose their own service projects.
These projects might include a pet supplies drive for a local animal shelter or a sandwich-a-thon to create sack lunches and raise money for a homeless outreach organization. Or, students might organize a way to make sure that every student in middle school has the opportunity to learn first aid. In addition to individual service projects, the school does two multigenerational service days each year that involve parents working alongside children.
Students also use their voices to speak out. Recent student activities include participation in the global day of student climate activism, creation of a student film advocating for immigrants’ rights and participation at recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Engaging in thoughtful reflection
Finally, citizenship should reflect one’s values. In keeping with Friends tradition and practice — which is based in Quaker philosophy — Chicago Friends School puts aside time for weekly silent meeting, a time in which students are invited to reflect on important questions that help support the concept of citizenship. It is in these meetings that students can deeply reflect on who they are, discover their own values and determine how they will live these values in the larger world.