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Inspiring Student Civic Engagement and Preparing Students for College and Career Success

Effective, representative governance requires an informed and engaged citizenry. Yet, research, including a 2014 Stanford University and University of Washington study, finds that students do not feel inspired by civic values taught in school or believe they are equipped for activity in civic and political domains. Less than a quarter of eighth-graders scored with proficiency on the 2014 national civics assessment. Results are even more disheartening for minority students: Only 12% of Hispanic students and 9% of black students scored with proficiency.

But, research suggests that when students participate in high-quality civics and service learning programs, they are more likely to vote later in life. They are motivated and engaged in school with better attendance rates.  Students who receive civic learning are four times more likely to volunteer and work on community issues, more likely to discuss politics and more confident in communicating with elected officials. A 2015 law now requires Illinois high school students to complete a semester-long civics course including a study of government institutions, current and controversial issues, service learning and simulations of the democratic process.

CFP endorses quality civics and service learning for Chicago students and seeks to help provide support to effectively implement the state’s  new civics course requirements and quality learning standards.

Embarc is a CFP-supported endeavor moving these efforts forward. The organization strives to prepare low-income high school students for college and career success via a three-year program of community-driven, experience-based learning opportunities. At an individual level, the program sparks students’ intrinsic motivation. At the school level, it provides educational resources to drive civic engagement. And, systemically, it fosters student interest in and action on local, national and global issues.

Embarc targets its partnerships with under-resourced Chicago Public School high schools, providing comprehensive training for teachers within these schools. The program's in-class curriculum includes a focus on communication skills, collaboration, media and technology, goal-setting, reflection, resiliency and critical thinking. In addition to classroom civics curriculum, the program invites students to visit businesses, nonprofit and university partners for real-life learning opportunities, such as workshops, speed networking and post-secondary pathway support.

Providing students with high-quality and relevant civic and service learning opportunities helps prepare them to become informed and active citizens. Moreover, offering these resources in high need schools lowers high school dropout rates, creates a more positive school climate and helps to close the civic achievement gap across race, ethnicity, income and parental educational attainment.1

1  https://www.illinoiscivics.org/resources/why-civics