Last week, we hosted the first-ever Civic Action Recognition Awards in partnership with Chicago Public Schools. We honored students, teachers, and organizations who are making a difference inside and outside the classroom.

Together with Chicago Public Schools, we gathered over 300 attendees at the Harold Washington Library to recognize the finalists and winners of these first-ever awards.

Chicago's own Keke Palmer kicked off the awards ceremony with some inspiring words. "Don't be afraid of having dreams too big. God put them in your heart for a reason."

There were four categories of awards—one that recognized students who led impactful school projects that boosted civic learning, one for schools that modeled civic leadership, one for teachers who go above and beyond to support young leaders, and one for community organizations that provide young people with opportunities to get involved. Let's meet the winners!

The Youth Impact Award went to students groups at one high school and one elementary school, both of which had to demonstrate evidence of completing research, engaging community members, and formulating and implementing solutions.

The Ogden-Jenner Student Voice Committee won the Youth Impact Award for its impact on important issues in the school community following the merger of Ogden and Jenner Elementary schools at the beginning of this school year. The group has been the representative voice of students on issues such as school climate, the local school council, school-wide planning, and helped shape the narrative about what the merger has meant to them. Go SVC!

Team TACTICS from Phillips Academy High School was the high school Youth Impact Award winner. They were recognized for their work to foster stronger relationships between the community and law enforcement by developing workshops and a curriculum for their school.

Next up were the Civic Culture and Commitment Awards which went to Michele Clark High and Dever Elementary, recognizing their commitment to building opportunities for students to have authentic and meaningful civic learning coursework.

Dever Elementary was recognized for integrating civics education into all grade levels and prioritizing student voice by including students in administrative meetings and school decision-making. Their administration consulted with students on making a remodeled space more positive and student-centered and ensures students regularly contribute to local school council meetings.

Michele Clark High School was recognized for offering a wide variety of classes connecting course content and skills to current topics and issues impacting students’ lives today, and it uniquely empowers students to take action through a course specifically focused on student leadership.

Next up, it was the teachers time to shine. The Civic Education Leadership Award honored educators who model civic leadership by providing opportunities for young people to engage actively in their community. The Awards went to Shana Pearlmutter and Peter Barash from Bell Elementary and Elizabeth Robbins from Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy.

Shana Pearlmutter and Peter Barash received the Award for their work as the founders of their school’s Legacy Project, which enables students to investigate issues relevant to them and communicate their ideas through murals at the school, leaving an impact on the school community for generations to come. By weaving project-based learning with real-world issues, both teachers have demonstrated a commitment to student inquiry, investigation and civic learning.

Elizabeth Robbins was recognized for her work prioritizing and advocating for the voices of young people throughout her 15-year career as an educator, Lead Civics Teacher, and leader of Brooks’s Gay-Straight Alliance Club and Student Voice Committee, where she supports student advocacy for a stronger school and community. Her work has been featured locally and nationally, from TedX to the Teaching Channel.

Finally, it was time for our Community Partner Award, recognizing an organization that exemplified a meaningful partnership with Chicago Public Schools to empower student voices and encourage civic engagement.

The Award went to Voices of Youth in Chicago’s Education (VOYCE), recognizing its work in advancing civic learning for students of color in different communities across Chicago. VOYCE has empowered CPS students to organize advocacy campaigns focused on issues that matter to them, such as mental health, school discipline and youth relationships with law enforcement.

We were incredibly proud to partner with Chicago Public Schools to honor young people and those who support them here in our hometown. These award winners are demonstrating just how critical young voices are to making our schools, our education system, and our communities better.