College in the Schools Political Science Program

Since 2003 I have been the political science faculty coordinator for the University of Minnesota’s College in the Schools (CIS) program. Generally, this nationally accredited program allows high school students from across Minnesota to take university courses while staying in their respective high schools. By partnering with the university, teachers and administrators strengthen their academic programs. Students also benefit because they gain firsthand experience of how college classrooms work – with their faster pace and increased academic rigor. In so doing, they obtain a higher level of substantive learning and an introduction to the true underpinnings of a liberal arts education: thinking critically, writing well, and communicating orally.

More specifically, I work with more than twenty different teachers and with more than 400 high school students per year (a total of almost 4000 students during my tenure in this position) to bring our department’s POL 1001: American Democracy in Changing World into high schools throughout Minnesota. I coordinate this course in a wide variety of schools, from urban high schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul such as Johnson and South, to suburban schools in Burnsville and Shakopee, to rural schools such as St. Clair and Waseca. Ultimately, the key is that I am able to bring this course (and the high standards it carries from our award winning department) to students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to take such a high level course.

Faculty Development

As faculty coordinator of CIS for political science my key responsibility is to ensure my teachers have the knowledge they need to teach at the university level. I do so in several ways. First, we meet three times a year for faculty workshops. These professional development meetings are a combination of discussions about substantive topics covered in the course, pedagogical practices and techniques, and talks given by experts in the American politics. During these meetings teachers have an opportunity to be part of high-level discussions about political science and pedagogy in an atmosphere they would normally not have in their home schools. Second, I meet a multitude of times with new teachers prior to their first classroom experience. In these summer meetings we cover the substance of the course, how to write a syllabus, and how they should approach this course differently from a typical high school course. Third, I visit classrooms on a regular basis. I attend classes to observe my teachers and to discuss with them ways to ensure the course stays at a high level.

Student Experience

Several times a year I also go out to my schools to run class for a day. These may be my favorite days as I have the privilege to interact with so many wonderfully bright high school students. I usually give a talk (rather than a lecture) about some aspect of the U.S. Supreme Court. However, we spend the vast majority of time in a question and answer session about the Court or any other aspect of American politics. I generally give 4-5 such talks per academic year.

As an extension and culmination of their classroom learning, CIS students are invited to visit the University once a year to participate in a public policy deliberation exercise.  This exercise, known as Field Day, is designed to introduce students to contemporary public policy concerns in a participatory manner. The student jury is a shorter version of the citizen juries initiated and run by the Jefferson Center in Minneapolis since 1974. In citizen juries, a representative group of Minnesotans, serving as a microcosm of the public, is brought together for a week to become informed about a specific topic of public concern, discuss potential solutions, and come up with recommendations that are brought to the attention of the public and local and state government.  Student juries are similar, but on a smaller scale. Here, the students become informed about a specific issue through background readings, testimony from experts on the issue, and questions they pose to a panel of experts. From there, students meet in “juries” to deliberate about possible responses to the issue, they come up with a response that is brought to other juries and finally to an elected official. The public official then has a conversation with the students about their solutions to the posed problem. Our public officials have included a U.S. Senator, a U.S. representative, a host of state elected officials, several judges, and a variety of policy analysts. Each year it is clear that this day is an incredibly important experience for my high school students.