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Scott Bramley, associate principal for instruction and literacy at Evanston Township High School, told members of the City School Liaison Committee on Feb. 18 that School Districts 65 and 202 are working both individually and collaboratively on the Joint Literacy Goal the School Districts adopted in January 2014.

The Goal provides that the two Districts “will ensure that all students are proficient readers and college-and career-ready by the time they reach the 12th grade.” The goal has a 12-year horizon, and contemplates that the Districts will partner with early childhood providers and other organizations to achieve the goal.

The Joint Literacy Goal was adopted at the same time as the Evanston Cradle-to-Career Initiative (C2C), Mr. Bramley said, indicating that “from everybody’s thinking there’s a real push in the community for literacy.” Not waiting for EC2C to begin formally, however, the two School Districts have been working over the past year to formulate how they can work to “change the trajectory of literacy for all students, from birth to post-high school. We’re pooling our best thinking to support all children when it comes not only to reading but to life skills,” he added.

Since the goal was adopted, both Districts have been working on aligning their curricula and on implementing disciplinary literacy, a way of teaching students to develop critical thinking skills in each subject area. They also continue outreach to form partnerships to enhance literacy in both Districts.

As examples, District 65 has enhanced its efforts to improve literacy for students in pre-kindergarten though second grade. At ETHS, students in this summer’s reading and math class will spend one class period a week studying and discussing the Response to Violence curriculum developed and facilitated by Literature for All of Us. The curriculum will include the incidents in Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island and other places where there were fatal confrontations between black residents and white law enforcement officials. Students can talk about the issues that adults are talking about, that affect residents locally and nationally, Mr. Bramley said.

The Evanston Public Library is a strong partner in the Joint Literacy Goal and in CC2C, Mr. Bramley said. The Library has created a school library card, allowing faculty and staff access to the Library, even if they do not have personal library cards, he said.

The Library has also applied for a grant from the Big Read program of the National Endowment for the Arts. The Big Read formed in response to a 2004 NEA survey of reading in this country titled “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America.” The report found that “not only is literary reading in America declining rapidly among all groups, but that the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young,” according to information at www.neabigread.org.

Wynn Shawver, development officer for the Evanston Public Library, said, “We are very excited about this opportunity and the partnerships that have resulted from our grant application process.” The Big Read considers proposals from $2,500 to $20,000, and the applicant must match the funds.

The Big Read recommends several books, and the one the Library chose for Evanston is “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea.

Ms. Shawver said the book was chosen “in light of its successful imagery, reader accessibility, and topical subject matter.” The Big Read website, neabigread.org, says of the book, “The U.S.-Mexico border is not just a line on a map; it is a dream-like destination and departure point, surrounded by desperation and expectations. … Mr. Urrea invites us to think of the border as more than a stark divide between nations: he reminds us that it is a place of convergence where meaningful conversations, and even love, between cultures begins.”

Grants from The Big Read support community-wide reading programs in which residents read and discuss a single book, using it as a vehicle for showing films, holding panel discussions, etc., about the book or its topic.

“The goal is [for students] to have the opportunity for civic engagement with adults who have read the same book,” Mr. Bramley said.

Ms. Shawver said the Library’s proposed programming for “Into the Beautiful North” seeks to offer a wide variety of attractive opportunities to read, discuss and explore “Into the Beautiful North” and related literature; it will go beyond traditional reading and discussion groups. We have designed a 10-month
multidimensional/bilingual program starting with a “Kick Off” event of the Big Read on 9/10/15, selected due to community-wide programming scheduled for Hispanic Heritage month.”

The Joint Literacy Goal is a recurring agenda item for the City-School Liaison Committee, which meets quarterly at rotating venues.