AGC’s core mission is to develop mindful leaders who take action to positively impact their communities and the world beyond. In order to help our students develop the skills and aptitudes of an open-minded critical thinker, AGC educates students in Inquiry into Action cycles. Our curriculum and school culture all contribute to cultivating the next generation of global, environmental and civic leaders.
We believe in having critical dialogue with our students and we celebrate their commitment to being part of the positive change in our world. One of our 8th grade students, Leila Gutierrez , along with her family, are working with El Foro Del Pueblo in their Little Village neighborhood. Leila is an environmental activist who is working on fighting for environmental justice with groups like the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.
Recently, Hilco Redevelopment Partners demolished their old coal plant’s chimney. This demolition left Little Village with dust and debris. Leila believes that “Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. Environmental justice is the movement’s response to environmental racism.” Leila is committed to working towards environmental justice.
This propelled her to participate in two protests about Hilco’s contamination of her neighborhood. Leila believes it is important for people to fight against racism, and environmental racism is a part of the same fight when communities of color are contaminated, ignored and attacked. “I want to encourage everybody to do what you can to take a stand with communities that are being targeted with racism and racist environmental attacks.”
We are proud of Leila and her activism and her commitment towards environmental Justice.
AGC is hiring! Please share the opportunities below with your networks to help us reach best-fit candidates for our unique school.
The Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) is a non-profit Chicago public charter school, located on the Southwest side. Our mission is to develop mindful leaders who take action now and in the future to positively impact their communities and the world beyond. Our innovative and holistic approach aims to foster systemic change and inspire the way society educates future generations. AGC values:
AGC is an internationally recognized laboratory of innovation in education, with a Dual Language program, an International Baccalaureate MYP and PYP program, and a progressive approach to multi-stakeholder collaboration. Please help us identify good-fit candidates for the following roles! Click the links below for full job descriptions.
We are looking for staff who…
Have a big heart to match a big brain
Want their work to define best practice
Respect and thrive in a dynamic, changing, and growing environment
Know extraordinary things can happen when people work hard together
Are excited to participate in a laboratory for innovation in education
Dream about reimagining what’s possible for the future of learning
Are (ideally) bilingual in English and Spanish
Working at AGC means…
Being surrounded by thoughtful, inquisitive students and hard-working, passionate, and like-minded colleagues
Thinking outside of the box to do what is best for our students
Promoting student profile qualities of the International Baccalaureate Program: inquirers, thinkers, communicators, risk takers, knowledgeable, principled, caring, open-minded, well-balanced, and reflective.
Having high academic expectations for every student in the school every day
Getting your hands dirty in our school garden and facilitating outdoor learning
Enjoying 100% organic, scratch-made meals prepared by our on-site chef
Working in an environmentally sustainable and health conscious school culture
Incorporating wellness, mindfulness, yoga and environmental education into your work
AGC is seeking exemplary applicants for the following positions:
WITH VIDEO: Mayor and Earth Day Founder Address Chicago Students During Virtual Celebration Marking the 50th Anniversary of the Global Landmark Event
April 22nd event brings together families, educators, and environmental leaders
CHICAGO, IL – On April 22nd, Denis Hayes, coordinator of the first Earth Day, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot participated in a virtual celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with students and staff of the Chicago-based Academy for Global Citizenship. Embracing the challenge of these difficult times, students, families, community partners, and staff conducted the celebration via remote connection hosted by the founder of the academy, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, who discussed near-final plans to launch the academy’s new campus in Garfield Ridge.
“I am so thrilled that we are launching this new learning hub, which will do so much for communities in Southwest Chicago,” Mayor Lightfoot said during her welcoming address. “I am so proud of what AGC and its students have accomplished over the past twelve years establishing this important institution of learning … but I am even more moved by your vision for community learning and everything you’re poised to accomplish in the future.”
Denis Hayes, founder of Earth Day, and Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, founder of Chicago-based Academy for Global Citizenship, discuss plans for the Chicago academy’s sustainable new campus.
To launch the new campus, the Academy for Global Citizenship received a capital commitment of $31 million from the State of Illinois last June. Located in Garfield Ridge, the facility will reimagine community learning, providing education, early learning, employment opportunities, health care and other services to communities in Southwest Chicago. As part of the Living Building Challenge, the academy will produce more energy than it uses, via solar panel arrays, and it will give back to the community more food than it consumes, via greenhouses, hoop houses and a learning barn.
Hayes was particularly complimentary of AGC’s commitment to student wellness and nutrition. “The environmental impact of what you eat…is enormously important and I know that your school has been very good about growing some of your food,” he said during the interview with Ippel. “That is dramatically underestimated by most people in terms of its impact on climate change.”
Hayes launched the first Earth Day gathering in 1970 as a way of raising awareness about ecological degradation, and in the interview with Ippel, he discussed how plans for the academy’s new campus will have a powerful impact on the environmental movement. The academy intends to become the first facility in the Midwest to meet the rigorous environmental standards of the Living Building Challenge.
“It is truly inspiring to learn from Denis as a lifelong advocate for a more sustainable future,” Ippel said. “Human wellness is so closely tied to a healthy environment, and we hope that our new campus will empower generations of students to invent solutions that balance human and planetary well-being.”
Members of AGC’s student Green Team collected lettuce they helped grow last spring on the Garfield Ridge campus of the Academy for Global Citizenship. Photo credit: Marney Coleman.
AGC’s Innovation Fund offers educators the opportunity to develop innovative learning practices through travel, study, and pilot programs. AGC’s Sustainability Coordinator received an Innovation Fund grant to study farm and culinary education in Oslo, Aurland, and Copenhagen. Click here to make a donation to support AGC’s Innovation Fund.
Farming and Cooking in Scandinavian Education
My name is Marney Coleman and I am the Sustainability Coordinator at the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC). In this capacity I work to embed sustainability into our school curriculum, culture and operations. One of my favorite parts of my job is engaging students in our school garden and cooking activities. As part of our work to develop a model sustainable Learning Hub on Chicago’s Southwest side, we are conducting increasingly in-depth visioning for the future of garden education and the role of student programming in an on-campus production farm. I am incredibly excited about the plethora of possibilities that exist around deepening student engagement in the agricultural components of this future campus.
This fall, I had the privilege to travel to Denmark and Norway to study best practices in student-centered agricultural and culinary programs. This research trip was made possible by a grant from AGC’s Innovation Fund, which exists to support AGC educators in collecting and developing best practices in global learning.
I visited three different organizations during my time abroad: Haver til Maver (Copenhagen, Denmark), Geitmyra (Oslo, Norway), and Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule (Aurland, Norway.) During these excursions, I was able to observe and participate in a diversity of programming, including a 5th grade cooking and gardening class, a Kindergarten gardening class, a multi-aged special education cooking class, and a farming course for young adult learners. Each visit provided insights and inspiration that expanded my thinking on the possibilities within agricultural and culinary education.
My learning can be best distilled into three major takeaways:
Lesson #1: Students must allowed to take managed risks, with clear expectations.
This was a theme at all three organizations I visited. I was impressed to see students of various ages starting campfires independently after watching a demonstration, chopping veggies unassisted, and washing veggies outside on a cold and rainy day. What I learned from observing how my hosts approached these activities is that when students are allowed to take managed risks, they become more comfortable with the outdoors and culinary skills.
This was especially apparent in Haver til Maver’s approach to incorporating outdoor exploration as part of their school visit model. Haver til Maver is an educational organization working within 40 local schools gardens in Denmark. In their own words: “children sow, grow, cultivate and harvest their own vegetables… Afterwards they cook their vegetables in the outdoor kitchen and turn their vegetables into a healthy and tasteful meal.” I was lucky enough to be able to participate in this farm-to-table approach with a group of inquisitive 5th graders at one of Haver til Maver’s sites in Copenhagen. The learning garden I visited was located on the grounds of an old castle!
In between their cooking and gardening sessions, students were able to engage in free nature-play in and around the garden. I was amazed to see how familiar the students were with this beautiful space that they visit several times a year. Students showed me their favorite climbing trees, where to find the best plums, their favorite places to look for birds, and how to play on the outdoor swing and balance bridge. I asked the facilitator what the physical boundaries were for students’ exploration. She gave me a knowing smile and replied, “as far as where they can still hear the bell,” gesturing to a large iron bell which served as a signal for students to return to the program. She explained that this is inherent to the Haver til Maver programming and pedagogy. Students are granted trust to explore in the garden and kitchen. They learn from experience how far they can go or how to master knife skills.
During my visit, students made a soup which is traditional in Denmark for the fall. Students worked in teams to create small outdoor fires, chop vegetables (with real kitchen knives), and independently follow the recipe in their groups. When I expressed my surprise, the facilitator explained that as part of the program, students are trained throughout the sessions to reach this precise point, knowing that they have to earn the privilege and responsibility to use these tools. By the time they use the kitchen knives, students are well practiced in knife skills after using plastic knives. While there is always risk in using sharp kitchen tools, this becomes much more managed as students are trained up to use them.
This lesson provides a great “true north” direction to aspire to not only in the integration of outdoor play in our future campus — with the outdoor farm, learning greenhouse, and campus landscape as areas for exploration — but also in AGC’s current cooking and nature-based curricula.
Lesson #2: Engage the community.
During my time in Copenhagen I was fortunate to meet with Haver til Maver’s founder, Søren Eljersen. Outside his work with Haver til Maver, Søren is a sustainability entrepreneur and founder of a sustainable meal kit company called Aarstiderne. Søren newest project is called Bangaarden. In cooperation with the municipal government, Søren and his team are working to turn an old railcar factory into an ecological and gastronomical hub. With an on-site garden, as well as ‘food incubator’ spaces for individuals to rent space, the hub offers on-site courses in fermenting, cooking, as well as a long table for people to share food together. This emphasis on community — learning, growing, and eating together — gave me so much inspiration for what the community-based spaces of AGC’s future campus could be like. I dream of hosting community dinners at a long table featuring AGC-grown, on-site fermented foods or renting out our commercial kitchen to local food entrepreneurs.
This particular takeaway was extremely evident at Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule, an agricultural school in the small town of Aurland, Norway. The school is truly at the heart of this small community utilizes the community in much of its pedagogy. For example, the school’s approximately 60 adult students work with the municipal government on a compost collection initiative. Businesses and individuals in the municipality drop off food and yard waste at the school, providing organic material for agricultural students’ composting study! The beauty of this program is not only its mutually beneficial nature, but that it brings community members into the school, allowing them to see programming in action and to understand the value of the school. Additionally, the school hosts a farm store, featuring produce and value-added products from the farm, alongside products from local entrepreneurs and school graduates. I was so excited to see so many students and community members shopping and to learn that many in the community see the farm store as a hub of fresh food. It gave me so many ideas for what the farm store on AGC’s campus could be, and ways to make our current student-run farmers market more engaging for our local community. Lastly, the school has a full-production greenhouse where students learn to propagate plants to sell to the town. During my visit they were getting poinsettias ready for the holidays!
Another inspiring community connection at Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule was the long-standing partnership the school has with the local public elementary school which is located just across the street. My tour guide Jorunne has been bringing students from the local school to the farm for many years to experience nature and learn about growing cycles. Jorunne has also created a curriculum scaffolded on both experiences and content. This partnership is well known and highly valued by the community. A family that hosted me during my stay in Aurland told me that they had moved from Oslo with their two young sons in large part because of this high-impact partnership with the farm. This partnership inspired many ideas in how our future campus might collaborate with our community as well as how we might further develop the K-8 agriculture and culinary curriculum based on our specific context.
Lesson #3: Signage, clothing, and organization are critical.
Last, but certainly not least, I was most excited to learn from the logistics of how each of these programs worked! What do students wear in muddy or cold weather? Where do they keep their materials? How do students move throughout the farming and cooking spaces without overcrowding? A big takeaway for me was that consistent systems, procedures, and communication are key.
This was a theme I observed in all of my visits, but was particularly evident at Geitmyra matkultursenter for barn. Geitmyra is a Norwegian food education non-profit which explores the farm-to-plate cycle and cultural identity through food. Geitmyra has three different centers and I was fortunate to visit their first center in Oslo. During my visit on a chilly, rainy day I was able to tour the kitchen and garden spaces, to participate in both garden programming for kindergarteners and culinary programming for a multi-aged diverse learner class. On my tour I observed a wonderful variety of developmentally-appropriate outdoor and indoor spaces. Outdoors there is a sheltered yurt with a capability for a fire designed for younger students to warm up after a chilly day on the farm. Additionally, there was an outdoor “worm theater” for young students to observe worms at work. For older students, there was a plethora of outdoor cooking equipment such as a smoker for fish – a local culinary staple, and a stone pizza oven. Indoors, Geitmyra staff and facilitators were proactive in thinking of the diversity of students they serve by designing adjustable-height table-top burners, allowing students of multiple heights to actively engage in cooking.
Each organization I visited had a very organized system for materials. “Every item has a home” was a common mantra. Even in the outdoor cooking space I visited at Haver til Maver, which had a very small storage area, was immaculately organized. Student teams were responsible for washing and putting away their own equipment. They maintain an outdoor three-bin wash station, which was extremely effective! This added responsibility on students ensures that the space stays tidy for future groups and that facilitators can focus on teaching, rather than cleaning.
Lastly, a great takeaway that I observed was organization of student clothing. At Geitmyra, local Kindergarten students participate in programming on a regular basis. When I arrived at the farm on a cold and rainy day, I was surprised to see the group of Kindergarteners ready to participate in an hour long outdoor program. Their teacher explained to me that each child kept has a set of outdoor clothes at school. These kids came prepared! There is a Scandinavian saying, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes” and these students demonstrated that tenfold! These smallest farmers in boots and snowsuits were happy to harvest potatoes and carrots in very cold weather. Equally important, their teachers were just as prepared and unfazed by the less-than-ideal weather conditions. Modeling outdoor preparedness and excitement for all weather was key to the program’s success.
Overall, this trip provided so much inspiration, insight, and perspective into the world of farm and culinary education. This experience has inspired me to deepen my work and coaching of staff both now and at our future campus. I would like to express my most sincere thanks to the AGC Board of Directors for their support of the AGC Innovation Fund and to our founder Sarah Elizabeth Ippel for connecting me with organizations abroad. Additionally, my learning would not have been possible without the friendly and helpful hosts at each organization I visited: Daniel Hervik and Søren Eljersen at Haver til Maver, Renate Fuglseth at Geitmyra, and Jorunn Barane at Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule. I would finally like to thank the Danish and Norwegian students and teachers who shared their experiences with me during my visits.
“Good food is a right, not a privilege. It brings children into a positive relationship with their health, community, and environment.” – Alice Waters, Chef and Founder of the Edible Schoolyard
Food can transport you to another world, connect you with nature, other cultures, and your own body. The school garden is also an excellent teaching tool, offering a hands-on application for so many subjects.
By nurturing living things, students develop responsibility, patience, and empathy. There’s also no better way to get a child to eat healthy food than to involve them in growing and cooking it. This is especially critical for low-income populations which are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to fresh produce and quality nutrition education. Unfortunately, many school cafeterias, especially those in low-income areas, rely on highly processed foods.
When AGC opened our doors and built our first garden, we dreamed of watching our students grow food for their own meals. However, at the time, it was not possible for school gardens to use their own produce in federally-funded school meal programs. There was no food safety procedure established that catered to the specifics of a school garden. For our first several years, we gave produce away from a folding table in our parking lot or slipped vegetables into our students’ backpacks for their parents.
In 2012, the Academy for Global Citizenship joined forces with FamilyFarmed.org, Chicago Public Schools, and the Chicago Botanic Garden to create the district’s first school garden food safety manual and training program. With support from the USDA, Healthy Schools, Campaign, and others, this group developed and piloted a program which has made it possible for thousands of students around the city to eat what they grow. Since launching with an 8-school pilot in 2013, this program has been fully adopted by Chicago Public Schools and has expanded to reach students across the city.
Recently, thanks to a generous grant, this program has been expanded to serve an additional 130 schools and to incorporate job training for high school students. We are tremendously proud of the way this initiative has grown and grateful to our partners at Chicago Public Schools for their incredible advocacy on behalf of our city’s students.
AGC’s edible schoolyard includes a greenhouse, over 40 large raised beds, and a chicken coop. Here, students and families can study every aspect of growing food. They choose heirloom seeds, help them grow, and sell them in schoolyard farmers’ markets or to local businesses. They also care for four schoolyard chickens and collect their eggs.
Our vision for the future expands this concept across 3 acres. AGC recently purchased just over 6 acres a few blocks away from our current rented building on which to build a revolutionary new sustainable campus. Nearly half of this site will be reserved for urban agriculture, which with help from a farm partner, will contribute significantly to AGC’s scratch-made and local meal program. Click here to learn more about our future.
To support an AGC student’s access to healthy meals, consider making small monthly contribution of $7 to offset the cost of local and sustainably-sourced produce in our scratch-made meals. Click here to make a generous donation.
AGC’s Middle School program is kicking off a Global Citizen Workshop Series in two weeks with expert guest lectures and performances on social justice issues. Every month AGC students in grades 6-8 will participate in workshops led by local experts and members of our community.
AGC’s core mission is to develop mindful leaders who take action to positively impact their communities and the world beyond. In order to help our students develop the skills and aptitudes of an open-minded critical thinker, we seek to engage them in critical dialog about what is happening around the block and around the globe.
AGC’s Middle Years Program Coordinator, Berenice Salas, is spearheading this initiative alongside student and faculty leaders. Mrs. Salas brings a unique perspective as a long-time social justice educator and parent of three AGC students who has spent her whole life in our community on the southwest side. For Mrs. Salas, this workshop series is a way to proactively address the needs of our local community by encouraging grassroots advocacy.
“We need to have critical dialogue with our students. We need them to commit to being part of the positive change in our world. This is a way for them to develop a deeper understanding of their role within our school, their community, society, and the world.” – Berenice Salas, AGC Middle Years Program Coordinator
Each workshop will feature at least one guest expert who will engage our students in reflective dialog on important issues in our community around the world. The organizing committee has prioritized seeking experts who are represent the diversity within our community and who are aligned to AGC’s mission and vision.
The Global Citizen Workshop Series kicks off in two weeks with a workshop featuring local rapper and educator Lizzie G. Lizzie G’s programming addresses issues of race, identity, empowerment, bullying and social emotional learning, through dialog and entertainment. Local to Chicago, Lizzie frequently takes her “No Bully Zone” program on the road, and recently returned from a tour of schools in Haiti.
Proposed upcoming topics include: social media and our digital footprint; crime, drugs, and gangs; interpersonal violence and bullying; healthy sexuality and LGBTQ+ identities; and social emotional wellness.
In addition to this workshop series for Middle School students, AGC educators are also hosting a parent discussion series. This series, which we are calling “Real Talk,” offers a safe environment and resources to support our parent community in discussing topics such as gender, race, ethnicity, and culture. Real Talk seeks to provide a safe and respectful space to discuss tough topics, to help participants develop better understandings of different perspectives, and to encourage the sharing of personal stories and opinions.
If you are an educator or school leader interested in learning how AGC incorporates global citizenship and social justice into our culture, curriculum and operations, please contact us to learn about professional development offerings.
We are enthusiastic about these new initiatives and will keep you updated on the blog as our Global Citizen Workshops and Real Talk Series continues. As a public charter school, AGC’s budget is limited by per-pupil funding amounts, and we seek donations for important innovative programs like our Global Citizen Workshop series, 100% Organic food program, and international student travel. Click here to make a donation to support innovative programs at AGC or contact us to sponsor an upcoming workshop.
At AGC, we are mindful of our students physical and mental health needs. Educating the whole child beings with ensuring whole child wellness. We look to the wellness wheel as a helpful symbol of our balanced wellness approach.
The wellness wheel guides our daily practices across culture, curriculum and operations. Every morning, students and staff share a balanced, organic breakfast followed by yoga or meditation and a community meeting. To maintain balance during a demanding 8-hour school day, students enjoy 25-minute recess and take additional 10-minute “brain breaks” throughout each day. From grades K-2, students participate in a daily wellness class which incorporates all 6 aspects of human wellness, described below. Beginning in third grade, students have a more traditional physical education course in addition to a holistic wellness course, which addresses social, emotional, environmental, spiritual, and intellectual wellness alongside topics in physical wellness, such as nutrition and hygiene. These two courses provide critical skills and guidance as our students become increasingly independent and responsible for developing their own healthy habits.
6 Dimensions of Human Wellness at AGC
Intellectual – We practice intellectual wellness every day as we exercise and fuel our minds. We are curious, open to new ideas, and maintain an appetite for lifelong learning.
Physical – We practice physical wellness by sharing balanced and nutritious meals, participating in daily physical activity, caring for our body in a way that supports a long life and an active lifestyle.
Emotional – We practice emotional wellness by developing our ability to handle emotions in a constructive or positive way. We do so through integrating social-emotional concepts across our curriculum in units such as “art and feelings”
Social – We practice social wellness by seeking to maintain satisfying relationships, healthy networks, and community participation.
Spiritual – We practicing spiritual wellness by taking part in activities that impart a sense of meaning and purpose in life and by developing a sense of our personal values.
Environmental – We practice environmental wellness by appreciating, respecting, and supporting our surroundings and the planet, as well as by spending time in nature.
The video below, developed by our friends at the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Principals Association offers a glimpse inside AGC’s Wellness program.
This morning, at 10:00 am, AGC students across grades K-8 stepped outside to share a message of peace with students around the country following the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida one month ago.
Students at our K-2 building walked outside chanting “we want peace,” and formed a peace sign in the parking lot. They then recited a poem about peace in Spanish and English. AGC’s curriculum doesn’t explicitly explore such tragedies before it’s developmentally appropriate, however, these young students were curious and concerned after learning about the shooting through the news and were interested in sending a message of peace today.
The walkout at our 3rd-8th grade building was planned and lead by our Middle School Changemaker Advisory group. These students led their peers outside, and then took turns speaking about the reason behind the walkout. “We are walking out to show that we care, and by participating, you show that you care too,” they said, “even though the event that brought us here was tragic, we want to honor the victims by spreading positivity.”
AGC students then read the names of all 17 victims, and held a moment of silence in their honor. For 60 seconds, 300 students in grades 3-8 stood in absolute silence.
Finally, the student leaders broke their peers into small groups to discuss how students can get involved in the movement for safe schools, or to spread peace and positivity among their communities.
Participation at both buildings was completely optional, and students were invited to stay warm inside with several staff members if they did not wish to participate.
We are proud of our students for choosing to advocate for peace, positivity, and progress, and for adding their voices to a national student movement today.
Democratic schools each embody the spirit of democracy in their own way. They are as distinct as the communities they support. The spectrum of democratic runs the gamut from the anarchistic Free Skool concept, to schools who host weekly parliamentary meetings. These schools value the distribution of power across a learning community through seeking feedback, encouraging freedom of choice, and engaging with horizontal leadership structures.
This is What Democracy Looks Like (at AGC)
In 2014, AGC took steps to formalize an existing philosophy of power-sharing into more formal systems of democratic participation. On a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis, elected multi-stakeholder groups make recommendations to inform school management based on constituent feedback. Those democratic structures (described below in italics) seek to activate feedback from all staff, channel the parent voice, and tap into student perspectives. Our goal is for a majority of decisions affecting the whole school are made through a democratic process.
Within each classroom, democracy is also upheld as a value. AGC follows the best practices of Responsive Classroom, Restorative Justice, and student-led inquiry-based learning. Within our International Baccalaureate framework, students have tremendous agency to drive their own learning.
Our Democratic Structures:
The School Planning and Management Team, is a group of elected representatives from each staff department alongside a parent representative, with participation from the student council when appropriate.
The AGC Community Council (ACC) is an elected group of parents, staff, and parents who are also staff (a huge percentage of our staff are also parents of AGC students.) The ACC is tasked with channeling the parent voice and helping to organize parent engagement.
An elected Student Council represents student voice. Additional student committees and publications bolster open feedback and dialog.
An array multi-stakeholder committees tackle specific needs, such as the budget committee (made up of parents and staff) and the hiring committee.
Why Democratic Education?
Democracy can be messy and labor-intensive, but power sharing in the classroom and in school leadership also has tremendous benefits.
We are truly greater than the sum of our parts. To reimagine what’s possible in public education, we need every member of our community to be fully and authentically contributing to our vision for change. A diversity of perspectives within multi-stakeholder groups also helps to enrich decision making.
In his book exploring democratic learning environments, American Schools,Sam Chaltain describes the balance that American institutions strike. “These two universal needs,” he says, “for freedom on one hand and structure on the other — are particularly relevant to our nation’s school leaders, who must strike the right balance between the two in order to create healthy, high-functioning learning environments.”
Responding to Change
AGC was founded in 2008 with 100 students and a handful of staff. As our school has grown and evolved — developing our Middle Years Program in 2013, incorporating a Dual Language program in 2014, graduating our first 8th-grade class in 2016 and now, in our 10th year — our staff structure has grown and changed organically to meet the needs of our community. Our democratic structures have emerged, ebbed and flowed responsive to changing needs.
Recently, we sat down as a community to draft a staff model that best meets the needs of our community today. After ten years of intense growth and change, we’re no longer adding a grade level each year and, because change is truly the only constant, we’ve grasped an opportunity to reflect and redesign our leadership approach.
As a laboratory of innovation in education, we look for the best path, which is often not the most common or the easiest one. As a community driven by a unique mission, vision, and values, we are accustomed to innovative problem-solving. Over the last year, AGC’s democratic multi-stakeholder groups have spent countless hours developing a vision for the future of our leadership structure.
Innovating on School Leadership
To begin this process, we held open parent and staff meetings across two evenings to collect feedback on what the goals of a new leadership structure should be. Parents, staff, and students walked silently around the multipurpose room, pausing in front of chart paper taped to the walls to answer probing questions: “What makes our community unique? What will AGC be remembered for in 10 years? What is the primary role of leadership?” We then split into small, multi-stakeholder groups to reflect and offer feedback. All of the days’ notes were collected and analyzed by the School Planning and Management Team (SPMT). This feedback and generated 11 models, each reflecting a unique approach to leading a democratic school.
After several rounds of feedback and Q & A on shared google docs, the 11 models were reduced to 4. Those 4 models were taken to staff who, during a professional development day, broke into small groups to observe the problems in school leadership each model solved, created, or failed to address.
It has been an inspiring experience to watch our staff collaboratively innovate and problem solve, week after week throughout this process. AGC’s incomparable staff boasts an average of 11+ years of experience, which is uncommon in the Chicago charter community. AGC also retains 90% of our staff year-to-year, so we must be doing something right!
With this revamped leadership model, we’re now looking for progressive, innovative, and bilingual school leaders to join our team. We are exploring internal and external candidates simultaneously and accepting applications on a rolling basis.
Please share our 2018-2019 staff openings with the like-minded educators in your network!
AGC’s 5th grade government unit includes an immersive experiential component that is a big hit with teachers and students. Read on to hear both perspectives.
According to Ms. Helma, a teacher:
The students experienced a democracy last Tuesday, in which they had to vote on everything. They voted on questions like “can Cindy take a break for the bathroom?” and “should we learn Math or literacy first?” The class operated as a monarchy on Wednesday, with rulers from the same family and phrases like “please bow to the queen!” On Thursday, the class transformed into a DICTATORSHIP. Oh no! Mr. T was the dictator and those who didn’t go against him received favored treatment, including more choice time. Students knew it was a simulation and a safe word was established. Nonetheless, they were totally and enthusiastically immersed in the experience.
Half way through the day, some students ‘escaped’ and helped me organize a coup. We protested for human rights while Mr. Thompson had his students act like ‘loyal followers’ stating the Pledge of Allegiance to Mr. T.
Luckily we won, but did the students really sign up for a better deal?!
Soon, we returned to our normal classroom routines, with a new appreciation for our leadership and collaboration. Students spent the rest of the day talking about how it felt to experience different forms of government. No students were hurt during the simulation! It was all fun and a great learning moment!
I love this class and the deep conversations we had about types of government, opinions, following, bravery, fighting for what YOU think is right! I love working on days like these! This is great teaching and motivates kids to think deeply about this topic!
According to Miguelito, a student:
“For me it was a normal partly cloudy Tuesday. I had just finished my breakfast and was getting ready to go upstairs to Mr. Thompson’s class. I was chatting with my friends when I noticed posters that really freaked me out. Here is what some of the posters said: “Big brother is watching you,” “freedom is slavery, and “war is peace.”
I felt something was really different with Mr. Thompson when he started separating us into three groups by giving us different colored stickers. I thought he was grumpy because he didn’t have his coffee. We had to do different activities based on our sticker color.when it was time for recess The people who had yellow stickers had to stay inside for 20 minutes and only had 6 minutes of recess. The highest ranked people had blue stickers. I had a blue sticker. If you lost your sticker, you had to sit in a box outlined by tape to the floor. My friend got a promotion from yellow to green, but then he lost it when he shouted out. After lunch we headed upstairs to watch CNN 10 as usual, but he didn’t let us finish and made us do math instead. Usually we start math at 2:10 but it was only 12:05. I was so confused.
Suddenly, the security coordinator, Mr. Jose came and arrested Mr. T. out of nowhere! Then another teacher came in as the the leader of a rebellion called The Fist. We were freaking out! Then we had a trial. I was trying to take in all of this weird commotion, so I just left it to the new leader, who was taking action for freedom, which sounded better than Mr. Thompson ordering all of us around. Eventually, the new leader started ordering us around too.
Then, it was three o’clock, and Mr. Thompson came back. We were happy when he came back because he wasn’t a mean old grumpy man anymore. He wasn’t mean anymore because the government simulation was over.
I’m just a typical 5th grader in Mr. Thompson’s class and this week we were studying government. In our government unit, we actually recreated what happens in government systems. For a whole week, we simulated different forms of government.
For instance, the next day, we had a simulation about monarchy. Brianna was assassinated on her way to a ceremony. Then Gigi, her sister, took over leading the class, until she “died” of coffee poisoning. Then Melanie took over, but she made the boys sit on the floor. She “died” when her sisters’ ghosts haunted her. Their youngest brother, Ray took over next. He was King Ochoa the first. He made the girls clean up and do work in their math books.
After that day, it was communism, we all had the same thing and nobody was different. For instance, if there weren’t enough chairs for everyone to sit at a table we all had to sit on the floor. It made me feel a little bit bummed because my lesson spot is a chair. A lesson spot is the place where a student chooses to do their work.
Mr. T. could have use the boring old method of teaching with the stick against the chalkboard. And I don’t like that way. I mean sure we had to fill out a packet but we gained memories. And that was the end of my really weird week studying government.”