For 27 years, West Chicago Community High School (WCCHS) American Government teachers have prepared senior students to “live” democracy through the award winning semester-long 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, WCCHS 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 am 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 

The legislative simulation “War Room” at WCCHS.

The speaker of the house acknowledges a representative who wishes to testify about a bill.             Technology Integration Specialist Dave Clarke (l) and teacher Candace Fikis (r) work to keep
                                                                                                                                                     the simulation running smoothly

to the Speaker of the House. It was their enthusiasm for political action that drove us to reimagine this simulation online.”

The teachers reimagined 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.

As the WCCHS technology integration specialist, Clarke was challenged with how to manage half of 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,” said John Chisholm, teacher, “The students, government team, and Mr. Clarke banded together to make this senior simulation a resounding success."

                             The legislative simulation “War Room” at WCCHS.                                         Teacher John Chisholm addresses students, congratulating them for a great legislative session.

Clarke created a “war room” that was key to the management of this large undertaking on Jan. 13, 2021. 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.

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

The bills written by the 1st 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 https://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,” said Fikis. “In our reflection after the mock full session students repeatedly said that one of this 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.

To wrap up the experience, Chisholm said, “Civil discourse and respect for others is alive and well here at Wego."

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Community High School District 94 provides an outstanding educational experience for approximately 2100 students in grades nine through twelve at West Chicago Community High School. WCCHS serves the communities of Carol Stream, Warrenville, West Chicago, Wheaton and Winfield. For more information, or to be removed from press release distribution, contact Communications Coordinator Becky Koltz at (630) 876-6215.

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