Carolyn Pereira, 2016 Illinois Democracy Schools Recognized for Commitments to Students' Civic Development

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Last Thursday, our annual convening of the Democracy Schools Network kicked off with a reception at Cantigny Park where 13 Illinois high schools were recognized in the largest class of Democracy Schools to date. The Network now encompasses 54 high schools with representation in Chicago, its surrounding suburbs, the Metro East region outside of St. Louis, and both Central and Southern Illinois.

The Democracy Schools Initiative stems from humble beginnings a decade ago when the first cohort of four high schools earned recognition. It was the brainchild of founding Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC) Chair Carolyn Pereira, who received seed money from the Carnegie Corporation to implement the recommendations of the Civic Mission of Schools report. Carolyn and the ICMC first considered developing a prototype civics course for replication throughout the state, but quickly pivoted to more of a school-wide focus, understanding that a singular civic learning experience for students was insufficient.

Students from multiple Democracy Schools working together in groups.

Instead, civic learning should be woven throughout the curriculum of students’ high school experience. Moreover, students should have opportunities to develop civic skills and dispositions through a wide array of extracurricular activities. Finally, student voice should be embedded in all aspects of a school’s functioning, as these vital institutions serve as incubators for democracy.

While the Democracy Schools recognition process has evolved significantly over the years, these central tenets remain constant. The model itself has drawn significant national interest and been replicated in number of states, Arizona and California specifically.

Each of our newest Democracy Schools took turns demonstrating their own unique commitments to students’ civic development, but the highlight of the evening was Carolyn Pereira receiving the inaugural Civic Leadership Award for her enormous contributions over the course of half a century to the civic mission of Illinois Schools. Beyond launching the ICMC and its Democracy Schools Initiative, Carolyn also founded the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago more than four decades ago. CRFC remains a pillar of the civic learning movement in Illinois and a core partner in our civics course and standards implementation process. The body of her work set the stage for these policy achievements.

Moreover, Carolyn was a key contributor to the creation of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework of the National Council for the Social Studies, enduring that deliberation was central to the civics strand and the broader inquiry arc than spans grades K-12. Carolyn later served on the task force that used the C3 Framework to write new social studies standards for Illinois.

It is therefore no coincidence that Illinois is the national epicenter for innovation in civic learning. Carolyn Pereira is a true trailblazer and her legacy looms large. We are lucky to follow in her footsteps, and Illinois has and will continue to benefit from her lifelong work. In fact, the country is increasingly turning to our state, and its civic learning programming and policies in particular, in building democratic communities and institutions for the 21st Century.

Please join me in congratulating Carolyn for this lifetime achievement recognition and our 2016 Illinois Democracy Schools for their deep commitment to students’ civic development.

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