Innovative Curriculum

Envision an auditorium full of high school students dressed in business attire.  They rise, in turn, and give passionate speeches about proposed legislation on issues like gun control, abortion, and taxation.  The students observe proper decorum, addressing each other by their last names and using respectful language.  They care deeply about the bills, and the tone of the speeches reflects this.  They also care about what their peers have to say on these important topics, and although there are over 200 students present, all are quiet as they listen to the speeches made by their peers.  The Speaker of the House sits at the front, next to an American Flag, and bangs the gavel to signal that debate has ended and voting will begin after a five minute recess for lobbying.  


When you witness this scene, you are observing the culmination of weeks in the classroom practicing parliamentary procedure, learning about the platforms of the two major political parties, evaluating individual beliefs on a range of issues, declaring party affiliation, researching and writing bills.  The students have already put all of their bills through the committee hearing process and the Speaker has worked with the majority party leadership to identify which bills will be heard in the Full Session.  Students have been integral in planning and executing nearly every aspect of their experience while teachers have played an important role in helping them to become familiar with the legislative process, political parties, and current issues. 



History of the Program

Steve Arnold created the Legislative Semester while he was a social studies teacher at West Chicago Community High School. Over the years the curriculum has benefited from the creativity and input of many other teachers at West Chicago and the other schools who use it.   Steve retired in 2002 and began assisting other schools interested in the program.  In 2015 a non-profit organization was established in order to more broadly facilitate the dissemination of the program.



Participating Schools 

  • Community High School, West Chicago, IL (1993)

  • Lisle Community High School, Lisle, IL (2002)

  • Morton East High School, Cicero, IL (2004)

  • Morton West High School, Berwyn, IL (2004)

  • Pekin High School, Pekin, IL (2006)

  • Faith Lutheran High School, Las Vegas, NV (2010)

  • Windsor High School, Windsor, CA (2010)

  • Marengo High School, Marengo, IL (2011)

  • Middleton High School , Middleton, WI (2012)

  • Metea Valley High School, Aurora, IL (2012)

  • Sauk Prairie High School, Prairie du Sac, WI (2014)

Core Beliefs

Engaged and informed citizens are critical to a well functioning democracy.  A primary aim of social studies education is to educate citizens for effective participation in democracy.  The Legislative Semester is founded on the core belief that students learn best when they are engaged in authentic experiences.  The curriculum involves students in the legislative process rather than teaching them about it. Underlying the structures, events and experiences of the Legislative Semester are the following fundamental beliefs about education:  


1. Educational growth opportunities are greatest when students can operate in an environment that allows for accountability to themselves and their peers.


2. The developmental needs of high school students require that they exist in an environment of freedom and independence.


3. Students learn best through experience. 


4.  Authentic learning environments produce intrinsic drives that supplant the need to impose point driven, traditional evaluation systems.


5.   Student to student interactions can produce a level of investment in learning that cannot compare with teacher led instruction


6.   The quality of educational experiences is enhanced when students of all abilities participate equally.  The added diversity of opinions and perspectives contributes immeasurably to the student's experience.



Student Learning

  • Students will understand what core beliefs and values define the two political parties and analyze their own position on the political spectrum. 

  • Students will conduct independent research to learn about controversial public issues, form opinions, and propose solutions.     

  • Students will use knowledge of the foundations of American Government to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our democratic system.

  • Students will develop habits and values consistent with effective citizenship and future participation in our democracy. 

  • Students will effectively and persuasively communicate their opinions orally and in writing.


Two students from Middleton High School discuss their differing opinions about a bill on "Drug Crime Reform".  This video demonstrates student learning in the areas listed above.