Reflections on Action Civics Summer Institute

By: Jill Bass, Chief Education Officer

Action Civics Magic was in full effect at the Mikva Challenge Action Civics Summer Institute July 19-20th.  This summer learning opportunity was hosted by Mikva Challenge, in partnership with Loyola Chicago, to convene and empower educators across the country with Action Civics pedagogy, practice and curriculum.  Over 160 educators, administrators and civic learning enthusiasts engaged in discussion, sharing, reflection and activity at Loyola Chicago.

The institute kicked off with powerful examples of youth voice.  Current Chicago Public School 7th grade student Jalen Grimes delivered her amazing Project Soapbox speech and shared how she “normally doesn’t usually talk much” in class so her classmates were surprised by her passion in her speech.  Then alums Whitney Smith and Berto Aguayo shared how their Mikva experiences impacted their trajectory personally and professionally.

Over the two days, participants chose from 13 different breakout sessions, differentiated for experience and interest and facilitated by current Mikva teachers from Chicago, Washington DC, Los Angeles and Orange County.  Breakout sessions allowed facilitators the opportunity to model action civics activities with participants as well as engage in conversations about practice.

The large group convened to explore the role Action Civics plays in the movement towards more equity in access to high quality educational experiences for ALL students.  Inspiring leaders Mike Matsuda (Anaheim Superintendent), Heather Van Benthuysen (Civics Education Manager for Chicago Public Schools) and Chris Wyant (Deputy Chief Program Officer with the Obama Foundation) discussed their visions for meaningful civic engagement.  Teams then had the arduous task of pulling their learning together to develop preliminary implementation plans. But Action Civics always includes a healthy dose of community building and fun, as 160+ educators engaged in the rowdiest Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament possibly ever! (see photo)

All teachers know that you can prepare the greatest lessons, but it is the students who bring them to life.  The curiosity, commitment, enthusiasm and energy that the Institute participants brought to the event was truly what made the event magic.  Seeing Mikva’s model interpreted and contextualized for 15 different cities/districts around the country was beyond inspiring.

There is a lot to feel depressed about in the field of education and in the civic world these days,  but the feedback from participants has overwhelming expressed the feeling I, too, left with — that being with others who share a vision and commitment to provide meaningful civic learning experiences for youth, who believe in the power of youth voice and who are creative and unwavering is energizing, empowering and motivational.  

Looking forward to next year!

Mikva Action Civics Network is a nationwide initiative to empower and equip teachers across the country to deliver engaging Action Civics instruction. Visit or contact Jill Bass at to learn more.


Posted on August 27, 2018 in Mikva News

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teachers participate in Mikva Challenge programs across the country.


students campaigned during the 2015-16 Election Season


of Mikva alumni continue to volunteer in their communities, vs. only 36% of 18-29 yr. olds nationwide


Mikva students serve as election judges each election cycle


of Mikva alumni encourage their friends and family to be politically engaged, vs. only 35% of 18-29 yr. olds nationwide


young people served in the Chicagoland area, California and Washington DC


of Mikva alumni are registered voters, vs. only 53% of 18-29 yr. olds nationwide


students from 117 schools nationwide presented speeches and/or worked on civic action projects

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