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A recent Evanston Township High School graduate inspired next Saturday’s program on academic goal-setting to be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

Sponsored by the Fellowship of Afro-American Men Basketball League, the retreat is intended to help parents and middle school participants in FAAM plan for high school and beyond.

It originated when Robert Slaughter drove his daughter Adrienne to college this fall to begin her sophomore year and she left him with the kernel of the program he calls her “brainchild.”

On the drive, Adrienne had been talking about what differentiated her friends who succeeded in high school from those who shunned honors and AP courses as “too hard” or thought freshman grades “didn’t count.”

It seemed to his daughter the common denominator for success was “having a goal and vision beyond high school,” says Mr. Slaughter. “[Adrienne] said the community needs to do more.”

“FAAM and Your Future” grew out of the father-daughter conversation. Sources such as “the RoundTable series on college readiness,” Mr. Slaughter says, have also focused community attention on the underlying issues.

Keith Terry, District 65 School Board member, says the Board works on curriculum and teaching techniques. But, he continues, “We need to sharpen other parts – the community, parents.” It is most important to remember, he says, that “kids pay attention to what parents monitor.”

The Oct. 2 event will give parents information on why and how to help middle schoolers get ready for high school. It is meant, Mr. Slaughter says, to “create a space for thinking about students’ futures – what their hopes and dreams are.” Participants will consider “What do I have to do?” to help children prepare and achieve, he says.

Mr. Slaughter took the lead in planning the program, then drew on the FAAM community for help. “It has been a total team effort,” says Dudley Brown, FAAM president.

FAAM is a natural base for such an academic initiative. Founded in 1968 after cutbacks in school athletic programs, FAAM was intended to teach African-American youth good sportsmanship and basketball skills. But the organization’s other goals are to provide positive African-American male role models and to emphasize that athletics are secondary to education.

Now a 24-team league with boys’ and girls’ teams and cheerleading squads and a volunteer roster (coaches and others) numbering around 100, FAAM “has contact with 400-450 middle-school students each year and touches people from all social and economic groups,” Mr. Slaughter says.

He hopes many will attend, beginning with the 9 a.m. session in the auditorium. FAAM leadership will be introduced, and members of the ETHS athletic department will talk. They will focus on success stories and basketball, he says, but also on other sports kids can do in high school. Coaches will “encourage [the kids] to participate in something,” Mr. Slaughter says.

Separate breakout sessions for parents and students will follow. FAAM alumni Alex Brown and Angel Mason will moderate the student discussion.

Kathy Slaughter and Jerane Ransom, a 20-year FAAM volunteer, will facilitate small parent groups. They will begin, Ms. Slaughter says, by asking parents to jot down their expectations for their child and end by writing “what they are willing to do this year to help their child be successful.” FAAM wants to “help parents help their children be the best they can be at each milestone,” says Ms. Ransom.

The parent sessions will be interactive. They will address the role of parents in the school; survey helpful tools and resources; examine educational partnerships and parent advocacy (as viewed by a panel of a middle school teacher, principal and parent and a high school parent and teacher); will hear about “what matters” in getting into college, says Ms. Slaughter, from a “college admissions type”

Emphasizing that “information is the tool to success,” Ms. Ransom says rather than assuming parents know how to prepare students for high school, the event organizers hope to “give the parents a network so they don’t feel they’re alone. …FAAM is a family; they can stop any of us any time.” FAAM coaches work with kids, parents and teachers, she says. “We have an opportunity because of FAAM to be more than a basketball league.”

Mr. Slaughter says he hopes participants leave the program “with written goals and a handful of specific actions to take now toward achieving the goals” (for example, “Turn off the TV or limit time on school nights”).

The organizers can envision future programs – for instance, people involved with FAAM sharing their life experiences with parents and players attending the Saturday morning basketball games. The Oct. 2 event is a step on the road to a bright academic future for more Evanston kids.

“The program bubbled up from the community,” says Mr. Terry. “Isn’t that the beauty of it all – unsung heroes who step up and do their part? If we reach one child, we can really make a difference.