The Community Literacy Solution Design Team (the Literacy Team) of the Evanston Cradle to Career Initiative (EC2C) held its inaugural meeting on May 8. Fifty persons representing 25 organizations attended.

EC2C is built on the premise of “collective impact” – that schools, institutions, community organizations, business groups and others can have a greater impact by working together to address complex social and educational issues, than working alone.

The plan is to address the needs of Evanston youth, starting at birth, in a holistic fashion and to focus on all factors that impact learning, health and social and emotional development.   

The vision of EC2C is “By the age of 23, all Evanston young adults will be leading productive lives.

Ultimately, EC2C plans to focus on five areas, but a decision was made to focus first on literacy. At the May 8 meeting, the Literacy Team broke into eight groups and discussed an overarching goal for community literacy and key desired outcomes. The team presented many great ideas, and it is scheduled to continue its discussions on May 29.

In this editorial, we are presenting a few focused ideas, which may be more in the nature of fleshing out some of those discussed by the Literacy Team. 

First, one group suggested that “all children get a target dose of literacy.” Building on this, we suggest outcomes that each child, 0-2 years, be read to multiple times a day, that they experience a substantial amount of adult interactions, referred to as “serve and return” interactions in a working paper published by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University; that they be exposed to a target number of words by age 2 or 3, and they know a target number of words by age 3.

Numerous studies have concluded that these activities and skills are essential for early brain development and to develop early literacy skills, each of which can have long-lasting effects. We know this is on the radar of all involved.

Second, EC2C presented a draft overarching goal that “All children, youth and families in Evanston have the literacy skills and competencies they need to be successful.” Many members of the Literacy Team felt the term “successful” needed to be defined. In proposing desired outcomes, one group suggested that an outcome be that “All children be high school ready and post-secondary ready.” Here again, it is important to define what is meant by being “ready.”

The District 65 and 202 School Boards adopted a Joint Literacy Goal in January 2014 that provides: “All students are proficient readers who are college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade.” In March, the District 65 School Board adopted a goal that provides: “Prepare students to be on-track for high school-, college-, career-, and life-readiness.”

Being on track to college and career readiness is part of the School Boards’ goals and we urge EC2C and the Literacy Team to align its goals with those of the School Districts. A goal and an expected outcome of EC2C should be that our children are on track to college, career, and life readiness at third, eighth, and twelfth grades.

We sensed that some members of the Design Team may be hesitant to set a benchmark of college and career readiness, perhaps in recognition that some children will choose not to go to college. We think, though, that we should strive to prepare our students for college so they will have the opportunity to choose to go to college if they want to. They should not be foreclosed from that opportunity because we did not prepare them.

In addition, many reports conclude that, in today’s world, “career readiness” means the same thing as “college readiness” Students who enter a career after high school need the same academic preparation as students who choose to go college. After all, they are not going to school for another four years. And, they need a solid academic foundation to secure employment with opportunities for advancement that will enable them to support themselves and their families.

We think it is important to set high expectations for our youth, our community and EC2C.

The Literacy Team presented many other great ideas for outcome measures, and we anticipate the team will refine those and come up with more.

We reiterate what we have said several times before. EC2C represents a giant step forward. We thank everyone who has participated in bringing this initiative to this point, and we thank the leaders of the many institutions and organizations who have agreed to collaborate together toward a common vision for our youth. We have the utmost respect for everyone involved in this process. We respectfully offer these suggestions for your consideration.