Photo by Theo Tate
Granite City High School was selected by the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition as one of 10 high schools in the state being recognized as Illinois Democracy Schools for 2015.
GRANITE CITY — Granite City High School couldn’t have asked for a better way to start its 2015-2016 school year.
GCHS recently was selected by the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition as one of 10 high schools in the state being recognized as Illinois Democracy Schools for 2015. Next spring, ICMC plans to recognize the school in a ceremony with a stipend from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to invest in civic learning initiatives, a banner for public display and a certificate signed by the state and local public officials.
“It means a lot,” said Vince Willaredt, who is department head of the social studies department at GCHS. “It’s really nice to be recognized for all of the activities and the work that we’ve done and have the organization recognize that. This award isn’t necessarily something that we’ve done that’s new and different. It’s really recognizing the things that we’ve been doing for a very long time.”
GCHS Principal Daren DePew found out about the honor after receiving a letter from ICMC chair Shawn Healy Aug. 17, just two days before the district’s first day of attendance.
“What that means is that we are being recognized for our civic programs that we have at our high school, so it’s a nice recognition for us at the school,” DePew said.
The ICMC, convened by the McCormick Foundation, was founded 11 years ago as part of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, a national initiative to restore a purpose of education to prepare students to be participants in their democracy. Through its Democracy Schools Initiative, the ICMC helps schools reach their mission to provide civic learning opportunities that allows students to get the experience of helping to shape their government and society.
For the last nine years, 41 Illinois high schools — including GCHS — were selected as Illinois Democracy Schools after completing a schoolwide civic assessment.
“What happens was they did a civic assessment and recognized us for the programs that we have,” DePew said. “For example, many of our clubs and organizations do civic programs out in the community to try to help our community and give back, so we were recognized for that. We were recognized for the classes that we have, such as our civics class, that teach students about our democracy and our history classes.”
Willaredt, who has been teaching in the Granite City School District for 15 years, was part of the GCHS Democracy School application team that includes Linda Ames, Liz Cicio and Tim Wilson. Ames is a teacher in the social studies department, Cicio is a teacher in the English department and Wilson is a math teacher.
“We certainly appreciate the efforts of those four people,” DePew said.
Willaredt said the application process took about a year.
“Back when the Suffrage at 17 law went into effect, which allows 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections, we had the first student in Illinois to register to vote as a 17-year-old and we got a little media coverage as a result of that,” Willaredt said. “One of the schools in Chicago that actually wrote the bill contacted me and said, ‘Are you aware of this program, the McCormick Foundation and the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition? Based on what you told me about your school and the things that you do, I think you would be a perfect candidate for this award.’ So we assembled the team and we started the application process. It’s pretty lengthy. There were a number of surveys that we had to do and needs to be done. Last school year, we wrote the application and we were accepted this past July.”
O’Fallon, Marion, Oswego, Oswego East, Antioch, Prairie Ridge and three schools from Chicago — Francis W. Parker, Uplift Community and Westinghouse College Prep — also were chosen as Democracy Schools. The ICMC officially will announce all 10 Illinois Democracy Schools on Sept. 17, which is Constitution Day.
“It’s a very good way to start a school year,” Willaredt said. “It’s a nice award.”