DMPS high schools are demonstrating an exceptionally high level of citizenship this week.

On Monday at Roosevelt, an AP Government class staged the culmination of a unit about a simulated election campaign in the school auditorium. Students role-played as media types, candidates, campaign staffers, etc.

“This is one of the best classes I’ve taught,” said Amber Graeber, who is the district’s AP Coordinator in addition to her teaching duties at Roosevelt. “The curriculum comes from the Lucas Foundation.”

The George Lucas Educational Foundation is a nonprofit organization that promotes education reform through hands-on learning.

Each student in the class signed up for a preferred role when the unit began seven weeks ago. And they played them to the hilt in Monday’s culmination. There was a presidential debate featuring candidates from three parties, the usual two plus the Green Party. They staked out opposing positions in response to questions on topics that included military spending, immigration reform and the proper role of the United Nations in world affairs. There were reps from major media outlets ranging from the Washington Post to Fox News. There was a round of “Sunday morning spin” that followed the debate. The only thing that rang inauthentic was the general good-naturedness of it all. Despite the obvious preparation that went into everybody’s role-playing, they could only mask the fact that they are classmates, not actual opponents in the bare-knuckle political ring of 2017, to a certain extent. They took each other as seriously as they could.

Then on Tuesday night Central Academy and Central Campus co-hosted the Unity Through Diversity Forum that was held in the Central Campus multipurpose room.

Diversity is a cornerstone of a district where most of the 33,000 students are ethnic minorities. But good schools are also marked by diversity of opinions, ideas and philosophies.

Last night’s event was in that latter spirit. Unlike the Monday simulation at Roosevelt, which was part of a class curriculum, the diversity forum was entirely student-conceived and produced.

Lincoln senior Grant Fay was one of the organizers and the impetus for the forum was increased acrimony and intolerance on school campuses, fed and inflamed by the social media that pervade students’ lives beyond the school day.

“It makes you worry about the fate of our country,” Fay told the Des Moines Register, “if the only way we can talk about the issues is to slander other people and call them names.”

As was the case in Monday’s simulation at Roosevelt, a deliberate point was made of representing viewpoints across the ideological spectrum (and high schools from across the district). But the student panelists spoke with their own voices instead of role-playing. And they listened to one another.

The event drew a capacity crowd and served as an encouraging sign that perhaps there is still hope and an appetite for civil discourse. Just when it seems like this country “ain’t big enough for the both” of the parties that dominate our politics, leave it to a promising bunch of young citizens to remind us that it is.

The forum was taped by students enrolled in the Central Campus Broadcasting & Film program. You may watch a video of the event in its entirety at the top of this page.

Photos of AP Class and Unity Forum

Published on