Our Bridge to Southern Illinois Paved by the Paul Simon Institute

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation

Six years ago, I made the long drive from Chicago to Carbondale the visit the leaders of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. I met former Director Mike Lawrence at the 2009 conference that produced the original Illinois Civic Blueprint, and asked him to organize a lunch meeting with David Yepsen, the new Director.

I asked for their partnership in making our push for the civic mission of schools a statewide effort. While we had made significant inroads at that point in the Chicagoland area, our downstate roots were shallow to non-existent.

We held our first fall workshop with the Simon Institute the following year, and have proceeded to host one for Southern Illinois educators every autumn since. I knew we were on to something when 75 teachers and administrators signed up for our maiden voyage.

Shortly thereafter, we recognized our first downstate Democracy School, Carbondale Community HS, and others have followed in subsequent years (Shawnee Jr.-Sr. HS in 2014 and Marion HS in 2015).

Despite staff turnover, the Simon Institute has maintained its commitment to civic learning, showcasing its resources that include an annual student trip to Springfield and statewide polling data.

Therefore, when we began designing the #CivicsIsBack Campaign to support implementation of the new civics course requirement, we had a model for how institutional partners could help us reach teachers, schools, and districts in every corner of Illinois.

Ten other partners have emerged, but we’re thrilled to be back in Carbondale this week for stop four of our summer tour. More than 50 teachers are joining us today and tomorrow for our “Teaching the 2016 Election and Beyond” workshop, and we’ll be back again this fall for a follow-up training where we do a deeper dive on the content and practices prescribed in the new law.

David Yepsen recently announced his retirement, but we’re lucky to have him with us today to provide an overview of the 2016 Election. And we are deeply indebted to him and the entire Institute for their commitment to youth civic development in the spirit of their namesake.

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