In my three years at the McCormick Foundation, I have had the privilege of working with the Democracy Schools Initiative, which has strengthened schoolwide civic learning and engagement throughout Illinois.

Illinois Democracy Schools are high schools recognized for consciously promoting civic engagement by all students, focusing intentionally on fostering participatory citizenship and placing an emphasis on helping students understand how the fundamental ideals and principles of our democratic society relate to important current problems, opportunities, and controversies. Since 2006, 74 high schools have been recognized throughout the state.

Our work to “Engage Youth Civically” builds upon the important foundation that Democracy Schools have created to ensure that our young people are informed, actively participate in their communities, and have healthy civic dispositions.

Over the past year, we have worked to redefine Democracy Schools indicators and created a new assessment rubric that will be launched statewide in August. This strategic redesign of the Democracy Schools Initiative is shaping the integration of our grantmaking with key elements of Democracy Schools, where grant partners will be able to support the needs identified from Democracy Schools.

  • Our first strategy supports teachers to strengthen the proven practices of civic learning (Foundational Civic Knowledge, Discussion of Current and Controversial Issues, Simulations of Democratic Processes, Service Learning/Informed Action, and Extracurricular Activities) that connect with the lived experiences and identities of students.
  • Our second strategy supports school leadership to advance a commitment to the civic mission of schools, dedicating resources to sustain the vision and ensure all students have equitable access to civic learning.
  • Our third strategy is to promote student voice in schools both through representation and student media programs.

Read the full article about promoting youth civic development from the McCormick Foundation.