This unit was created by Mark Wiley, a high school Civics teacher in Chicago, IL, as part of the 2021-2022 Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellowship program. It is designed for facilitation across approximately four weeks or fifteen lessons.

For more units created by Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellows in this cohort, click here.

Unit Objectives:

Students will be able to...

  • To create more gateways for student advocacy to influence budgeting prioritization and promote students’ own priorities regarding educational, physical, and mental health
  • To collaborate across school communities using Student Voice Committees (SVC) and Local School Councils (LSC) to increase student influence over the CPS district, and school budget process

Essential Questions:

  • Should we reassess educational budget prioritization since the Covid-19 pandemic?
  • How can students themselves be more involved in making major decisions on how they can best serve their own educational priorities, including their own mental health?
  • How can students be more empowered to influence how school resources are utilized?

Unit Overview:

Student input is often not taken into consideration in most school districts, in regards to how major decisions are made, how educational priorities are decided, or how budgets are spent. In the example of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), after almost two years of remote learning, students are struggling with major learning deficits, gaps in their education, and lingering socioemotional needs. This is an underreported story about students’ and their families’ needs, often not considered or prioritized in decision-making.

In Chicago Public Schools (CPS), there have been recent efforts to begin empowering student voices and increasing student agency. One example is the recent creation of the Social Science and Civic Engagement department and the fostering of Student Voice Committees within individual schools.  Student leaders and their parents on Local School Councils have more power to make important decisions. If schools want to do what is best for students, they must elevate their voices, listen to their stories,  and include them in shaping school policies, budgets, and priorities. Since the Covid-19 pandemic has strongly impacted students’ learning trajectory and mental health, why not let students make decisions about how educational dollars should be spent?

This unit is an effort to listen to students' underreported pandemic stories, and to help students gain autonomy of their education through understanding how money informs decisions within the school.

Performance Task:

For the performance task, students will:

  • Create a blueprint for their ideal school using architect layouts in order to design the perfect school. 
  • Develop a budget for their school focused on improving students’ mental health. 
  • Analyze current district and school budgets in order to eliminate unnecessary costs that don’t benefit students. They will evaluate which resources and expenditures are necessary and which ones are not.
  • Write a Letter of Declaration framing their school priorities.
  • Present their school budget proposals via multimedia presentations on how they would prioritize school funds to optimize students’ overall mental, physical, and educational health.

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Children and Youth

Children and Youth