Developing educated, informed, and engaged citizens.

Vision and Leadership

Shawnee High School is deeply rooted in civic learning—from a staff-initiated Veterans Wall Memorial with over 1000 names that are displayed, to its daily routines, thought-out processes, inclusive practices, and committed staff. This is a place where teachers are given the freedom to design their own curriculum where they incorporate controversial issues, simulations, and other proven practices in civic learning. The Social Science teacher uses mock elections and mock trials; the English teachers and science teacher find creative ways to infuse simulations; the art teacher encourages her students to create sketches that will later be turned into t-shirts to raise money and awareness for various causes, which the entire school will later study.

These teachers readily collaborate with each other and discuss controversial issues in their classes, encouraging critical thinking. The administration also trusts the social sciences to bring media into the classroom on a regular basis to help bring awareness to their ongoing service learning project about saving the levees that protect their district from the Mississippi River, and they welcome politicians from both sides of the aisle into the school so students can educate them on flooding issues. Additionally, the principal is an integral member of the Democracy School team and encourages her teachers to dream big when it comes to improving the school’s climate.


Maine East High School supports several extracurricular activities that support the civic mission of a Democracy School. The Demon-ocracy Club (their political engagement group) helped develop and fund a program for students to get wi-fi hot spots for home use where there was no Internet access, which then enabled students to use their school-issued Chromebooks not only for school work but also for interaction in the greater world. Students participate in the Democracy School Leadership Team (which includes teachers and students) where they are currently investigating the implementation of an online platform for student discussion of issues and topics connected to their school life and to the greater political climate.

The school also sponsors a variety of cultural clubs like the South Asian Club, Muslim Student Association and Black Student Union to provide forums for a variety of student backgrounds to be supported. Every year the school sponsors an International Celebration Day where the student groups proudly share the music, dance and food that represents their cultural traditions. In 2018, students were supported in their efforts to organize a school walkout, passionately speaking on the need for greater gun regulations, as a protest on the topic of gun violence in schools after the Parkland, Florida shooting tragedy.

School Climate

An integral part of Metea Valley High School is the Metea LIFE statement, which is prominently displayed throughout the building. This mission to Live with Integrity, Inspire a Passion for Learning, Foster Positive Relationships, and Expect Equity and Excellence for All is woven into the fabric of the school. Whether displayed on classroom posters, brandished on stairway risers, or used as talking points during a Principal address, it is a common message on what the school values, how the school community should act, and how the school approaches learning.

Beyond the LIFE statement, Metea is an environment that seeks to involve all students. Through its activities, events, and programs, diversity is celebrated. Students are encouraged to have a voice in their school and community through clubs and activities such as student government, the Principal Advisory Board, and Metea Media; all eagerly invite students to share their authentic voices in creating the school environment. Teachers work purposefully to build positive and meaningful relationships with students, and when necessary, implement restorative justice principles in disciplinary situations. And as a part of their orientation, new teachers are trained on the civic mission of the school and how the Metea LIFE statement supports that mission.

Discussion of Current and Controversial Issues

Wheaton Warrenville South High School prides itself on offering rich civic learning experiences to its students. In Social Studies courses, students routinely research and discuss international, national and local issues. The English curriculum is centered on argumentation and the practice of civil discourse. Formal debates and Socratic seminars are used by many teachers, as they have found these strategies useful for fostering empathy for diverse opinions. The use of cooperative groups has had a major impact in providing a meaningful structure for encouraging student voice within groups, while giving them a method for sharing their conclusions. This format is a schoolwide protocol and allows students to form opinions and debate issues such as the legalization of marijuana, requiring photo IDs for voting, and the challenges faced by large metropolitan areas like Chicago.

The most recent venture in promoting exemplary civic learning is the "Judge Gavel Program", where teachers are awarded for trying out new simulations, court cases, and other methods that foster discourse that emphasizes the sharing of multiple perspectives. Teachers who model these practices are awarded a special gavel that states "Wheaton Warrenville South Democracy School: Fostering Communities of Educated, Informed and Engaged Citizens." This message serves as a constant reminder of the importance of actively engaging students in discussion about their world.

Simulations of Democratic Processes

Round Lake High School students are offered the opportunity to partake in a variety of democratic simulations. There are obvious opportunities for simulations ingrained into the curriculum of their government courses. These include mock congressional debates, bill hearings, and jury deliberations. However, these democratic simulations are not limited to the social sciences. Ninth grade students are also exposed to jury deliberations and discussions on race relations through the acting out of Twelve Angry Men. Furthermore, the entire school participates in an annual mock election through partnerships with the Lake County Board of Elections and the League of Women Voters, who are both partners they have worked with in previous years.

Additionally, as part of keeping true to the Democracy School mission, the school has created another democratic simulation that incorporates student voice. The Panther Action Congress is a truly representative student government with reserved spots for students from all levels, including English language learners and students with IEPs. In order to be as inclusive as possible, supports for students are provided as needed and all of the meetings times take place during the school day as a means of allowing all to participate.

Civic Knowledge

O’Fallon Township High School provides high-quality civic learning experiences through a multitude of courses offered to the student body and extracurricular activities. Course offerings include Civics, Social Issues, International Relations, The American Legal System, and United States History. The curriculum of Civics focuses on students developing an understanding about the function and operation of state and federal government and the rights and responsibilities afforded with citizenship by exploring the language and principles embedded in the founding documents of American democracy.

The Social Issues curriculum is designed to expose students to a variety of current social, political, and cultural problems. Students participate in an approach that allows them to learn about an issue from various perspectives, research differing points of view, and prepares them to take informed action on the topic. A component of International Relations is to encourage students to participate and attend area Model United Nations Conferences. Students research, discuss and debate international issues, as they role play a citizen of another country. The American Legal System is a semester long course where students study constitutional law and concepts related to criminal and civil law. Emphasis is placed on the role of the Supreme Court interpreting the Constitution and the major cases it has decided. The curriculum of the United States History course emphasizes the major themes and significant events in the history of the United States as well as the historic and perpetual tensions of our democracy. Additionally, teachers across disciplines at O’Fallon include direct instruction, simulations, discussions and other student led activities to ensure that all students are given the opportunity to develop a strong foundation in civic knowledge.

Informed Action

The Monarch Butterfly project at J. Sterling Morton West High School is a student citizen science human impact project aligned to the performance expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core, and is about much more than saving monarchs. The primary goal is for students to learn how to solve real world problems, save one of the most endangered species in the world, and help build a better community around a common cause. It has connected Morton West students to students, citizens, and scientists all across America, Mexico, and Canada who are also urgently working on this endeavor. Students began by using scientific inquiry to study existing pollinator habitats to gather knowledge about biodiversity and the ecological needs of monarch butterflies. Building on this, they worked to determine a solution: to plan, design, and create a monarch butterfly habitat to be constructed on school property. Each student has a unique leadership role to play in their group: the team scientist, technologist, engineer, or mathematician, thus ensuring that each student is invested in the project regardless of skill and ability.

In addition to designing the habitat, each student devises a solution to a separate problem (their passion project), where they write a song, create an educational sign, make a film, create artwork or come up with anything they can that invokes the everyday person to stop and think about their impacts on their environment, and ideally, makes them change their behavior to reduce those impacts on the environment. Parents, teachers, administrators and all students are invited to view this work at an end of the year exhibition to better connect the local community to this project.

Student Voice

George Washington High School has created an exceptional number of opportunities to foster student voice. The Student Voice Committee is open to all students, meets twice weekly both before and after school, and fosters student leadership. The SVC conducts surveys to find out the most pressing issues students face, research possible solutions to these issues, and then meets with adult power holders to address the concerns and make proposals for change.

Washington students are also involved on many committees that are typically reserved for administrators, teachers, parents, and community members. Each year the 9th through 11th grade students vote for their representative on the Local School Council for the following school year. This representative has some voting power and regularly reports out about student concerns at the monthly meetings. Meanwhile other students serve on the Instructional Leadership Team, School Improvement Committee, Student Voice and Civic Engagement Team, and Postsecondary Team. In these ways our student body can express their opinions when adults are making decisions that affect their education.

Teacher Hiring, Assessment, and Professional Development

A civic-minded school climate features a strong commitment to ongoing professional learning for staff. And at York High School, this is demonstrated in several ways. Teachers have opportunities to learn from each other, as well as from specialists in the field. A long-standing practice is the 'grassroots, in house' Institute Day. In this model, any teacher can propose a seminar to present; staff then sign up to learn from each other on topics such as student-led discussion, de-escalation, and formative assessment. Another opportunity for teachers to learn from each other is an ongoing, less formal practice: posting a 'pineapple sign' outside a classroom if a teacher is open to collegial peer observations that day. Another developing practice is the use of department meetings for small instances of professional learning.

Six late start mornings are scheduled, where all departments experience 'mini-PDs'. In addition, each department chair has been paired with an instructional coach. Together, the chair and coach develop the PD plan based on feedback from the teachers within each department. Instructional coaches also perform a 'coaching round' with all first- and second-year teachers, and they are available to help teachers refine lessons, target certain skills, and develop new ideas. In a similar fashion, coaches and admin have developed mini-PDs for the entire faculty. PDs are 30-minute 'bite-sized' portions of pedagogical instruction and cover practices that teachers have requested. Additionally, when teachers attend an outside conference, they share what they learned with other department members at one of the late start days. Teachers also learn from each other through weekly PLCs that examine student work and discuss instructional methods. This multi-layered approach for professional development gives many opportunities for York’s teachers to continually refine their pedagogical skills.

Design and Teaching Strategy

DuQuoin High School has embraced the opportunity to address a global issue by making connections across the curriculum. In English II, students read a fictional book entitled Sold by Patricia McCormick; this book exposes the truth about human trafficking. Students are drawn to the story about 13-year-old Lakshmi who is from a very impoverished village in Nepal and becomes a victim of human trafficking, due to her family’s poverty. Students then read other texts that offer diverse perspectives on this current social issue.

This introductory experience in English II then connects to students’ experiences in other classes. They read nonfiction articles discussing the different types of trafficking that happen all over the world, including the United States. Students read articles about bonded labor, child labor, domestic servitude, forced labor, forced marriage, and sex trafficking. Each article includes a real story of a person who was forced into that particular form of slavery, and how they eventually escaped. In the Current Events course, student analyze this as a contemporary issue, and look for solutions to this problem. Spanish classes also explore this issue as a regional problem that plagues several countries in central and South America. This experience is made even richer by utilizing some community resources: two guest speakers. The first is from Bangladesh, who challenges students to explore the connection between culture and human trafficking. The second speaker works for International Justice Mission and discusses the efforts of the International Justice Mission to end slavery across the globe. This has resulted in much student interest in taking action to alleviate this appalling world problem.

School/Community Partnerships

Uplift Community High School has been designated as a Sustainable Community School. This designation is built on six pillars of school transformation, two of which relate directly to school/community partnerships: authentic parent and community engagement and inclusive school leadership for implementation. Uplift's designated community partner is Kuumba Lynx (KL), a well-known hip hop arts collective that has operated in Uptown (Uplift's community) for over 20 years. KL brings socially conscious arts to youth and engages with communities through conversations around current issues. They also have a deep commitment to restorative practices and building positive relationships.

Uplift hopes to transform its school culture and climate to one that is more restorative and respectful of student voices and sees KL as a partner in this work. As part of the initiative, there is a Sustainable Community Schools liaison whose job it is to build bridges between KL and Uplift and recruit and involve parents to work on issues of the school and community. The Parent Voices group works on addressing affordable housing, tenant issues, and rent control. Finally, a Community School Leadership Team provides ongoing support and includes representation from students, parents, interested community members, and the business community. The team meets monthly focusing on outreach to ultimately inform and involve the community.