Department of Literacy: Civic Engagement and Service Learning

What is civic learning and why does it matter?

When you think of civic learning you might think about your high school government class where you were made to memorize the three branches of government or recite all of the US presidents in order. Luckily, our understanding of civic learning and what constitutes the best way to engage youth in learning about our democracy has expanded! We know that the kinds of learning that will translate into participation in our democracy has to start with what students are interested in and be based on their own active engagement from an early age.

Unfortunately low income youth and young people of color are less likely than their peers to have access to high quality civic learning. Luckily, with civic learning the research tells us that demography is not destiny! Our students can become active, engaged participants through high quality civic learning opportunities.

What does civic learning in CPS look like?

Global Citizenship Initiative (GCI) – The GCI seeks to make available high quality civic learning to our students using research based best practice in civic education and engagement. Currently these two major components of the initiative are being piloted in dozens of CPS high schools:

  • High School Civics Course – aligned to the Common Core standards and allows students to analyze relevant issues exploring different ways that people have, and continue, to effect change in their communities.
  • Student Voice Committees – school based student governance bodies, which empower students to lead meaningful and relevant school improvement initiatives in collaboration with school administration.

High School Service Learning Graduation Requirement - Students in CPS must complete the equivalent of 3 projects or 40 hours of curriculum based service learning in order to graduate. Schools are asked to choose one of the following three options in order to ensure students complete this requirement.

  • One classroom-integrated service-learning project + 25 individual service hours
  • Two classroom-integrated service-learning projects + 15 individual service hours
  • Three classroom-integrated service-learning projects

See for more information.

District Wide Service Learning Project Opportunities – We organize several district wide opportunities for schools to participate in project based service learning. These include:

  • Jane Addams Week of Service – Students learn about Jane Addams and her contribution to the Settlement House Movement and participate in one or more service-learning projects during a week in December. We partner with 12 community partners including existing settlement homes like Benton House and Erie House.
  • MLK Month of Social Action – Students learn about the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and participate in a service-learning project or social action throughout the month of January.
  • Cesar Chavez Month of Service – Through classroom curriculum, students learn about Cesar Chavez and participate in a service-learning project connected to the issues he worked on including immigration, environmental justice, workers' rights and food equity.
  • Community Peacemakers – We partner with DePaul University to implement a Roots of Violence curriculum with 8 schools. Students create a peace project along with their teacher and a DePaul mentor.
  • Chicago Youth Service Day – We partner with After School All-Stars, Chicago Cares, and Jefferson Awards to mobilize 3000 students to participate in a day of service in their community as well as a rally to celebrate service in Chicago.

Calumet Is My Back Yard (CIMBY) Conservation Service Learning Initiative

  • CIMBY – over 700 9th-12th grade students from the South Side of Chicago learn science using interactive, place-based curriculum. Students take action to protect threatened nearby natural areas in the Calumet region through ecological restoration and stewardship. Through special events and summer internship opportunities, students are given the tools and training necessary to take leadership roles in the environment.

What does our office do?

As part of the Office of Core Curriculum, the Department of Literacy: Civic Engagement and Service Learning supports schools in providing high quality civic learning opportunities through the development of curriculum, organization of student events, and professional development for teachers. We also provide support to schools in implementing the CPS service learning graduation requirement, including professional development, city wide service learning events, and support with school


For Parents:

Parent Roadmaps to the Common Core State Standards for Literacy [EnglishSpanish]
What Parents Should Know About the Common Core State Standards
SY2014-2015 High School Course Catalog: Social Science and Service Learning

Contact Information

Contact Name

Telephone #

Email Address

Title/Area of Expertise

Julie Burnett


Director of Literacy

Jessica Marshall


Manager of Civic Engagement, GCI Civics Course Coordinator

Samantha Ozik


CIMBY Project Coordinator, Environmental Service Learning Programs

Cristina Salgado


Student Voice Coordinator, IMPACT support, District wide Service Learning

Lauren Woods


Service and Community Partnership Coordinator

Office of Core Curriculum
Department of Literacy: Civic Engagement and Service Learning
501 W. 35th Street, 1st Floor
Chicago, IL 60609

Page Last Modified on Wednesday, April 08, 2015