The Community Literacy Solution Design Team of the Evanston Cradle to Career initiative (EC2C) considered proposed key outcomes, objectives and strategies at its meeting on Aug. 11. More than 55 people representing more than 25 organizations, including the School Districts, the City of Evanston, and many non-profits, 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 Literacy Team is one of five solution design teams that will be formed as part of EC2C to work toward a common goal: “By the age of 23, all Evanston young adults will be leading productive lives.” Each team will set goals in its area, adopt an action plan to achieve those goals, and set measures to track progress toward meeting the goals.

The Literacy Team’s overarching goal is, “All children, youth, young adults and families in Evanston have the literacy and reading skills they need to realize our shared vision.” The team is broken into five working groups to address children’s needs in a holistic fashion.

On Aug. 11, each working group presented its key outcome, key objectives, strategies, and metrics to measure progress. The proposals are still in the development stage and are expected to evolve over time.

Well-Being, Health and Safety Working Group

Key outcome: “All children and youth are safe, healthy, and ready to learn.”

 Carl Caneva, assistant deputy director of the City’s department of health, said there are three objectives driving the group’s work: families receive appropriate and timely medical care, families have food security, and children and families are in stable homes and neighborhoods.

In the short term, the group is exploring whether the City’s 311 system could be expanded to provide information about the availability of social services in Evanston. Another short-term strategy is to provide a mobile flu shot program, where vans could park outside a school or other locations and medical professionals could give flu shots.

A mid-term strategy is to identify all groups in Evanston conducting home visits, and to determine what services they are providing, and what gaps might exist. The team is considering whether home visits might be used to look for signs of trauma in the home and to test for lead, and how to arrange for follow-up services.

Longer term Mr. Caneva said the working group may seeks ways to address affordable housing in Evanston.

“Everybody should be a partner in all [EC2C] programs,” said Mr. Caneva. “We want people to volunteer, everybody in the City.”

Literacy on Track Working Group

Key outcome: “Children and youth have the literacy skills needed at all stages to support academic success.”

Renee Neumeier, co-chair of the on-track literacy group and young adult librarian at Evanston Public Library, said, “The two objectives that we focused on mainly are ‘all children experience high quality early education, and all children are ready for kindergarten.’” A third objective is “all children are ready at key transitional points.”

As a short-term strategy, the team would like to revise the kindergarten registration form for District 65 to collect more detailed data about the participation of children ages 3-5 in early childhood programs. The team would also like to develop an asset map of early childhood programs.

Midterm strategies include understanding, tracking and publicizing information of whole-child readiness for kindergarten, and helping to publicize Illinois’ new early childhood certification program. The team also plans to pilot a program in which tips on developing early literacy are texted by cellphone to parents and caregivers. A recent study by researchers associated with Stanford University found that a texting program positively affected the extent to which parents engaged in home literacy activities with their children.

The long-term strategy is to increase student participation in literacy programs and their exposure to literacy. Overall metrics that the group is proposing to use include tracking the percent of students entering kindergarten with foundational skills in literacy, the percent of third- through eighth-graders making expected gains in reading each year, and the percent of 3rd, 5th and 8th graders who are on track to college readiness. 

Prepared for Adult Life Working Group

Key Outcome: “All young adults in Evanston have a post-secondary plan and the skills and supports to execute it.”

Diona Wilson, co-chair of the prepared for adult life group and an assistant principal at Haven Middle School,  said the group’s objectives are “Each young adult graduates from high school or obtains a high school equivalency diploma and demonstrates reading proficiency; by age 23, each young adult will be implementing a post-secondary education and career plan; and each young adult can and will access a network of supportive adults.”

“We have to realize the network of supports for young people is probably one of the most important things to make sure that they can propel themselves beyond where they are when they graduate from high school or obtain an equivalency degree,” said Ms. Wilson. 

In the short term, the team plans to work with organizations in EC2C that have volunteers who serve as mentors, and assess where there are gaps. They also want to find supportive adults who are not serving in a formal role as mentors, but who do mentor youth in their everyday activities and to whom youth look as role models.

The team also wants to ask young adults about who they have in their lives who provides mentoring, and what they need.

The goal is to develop a community culture to support young adults.

Monique Parsons, a member of group and chief operating officer of McGaw Y, said, “We’re not talking about developing another mentoring program. … but, ‘How do we develop positive relationships in our community and make them more impactful for young adults?”

Caregivers Empowerment Working Group

Key Outcome: “Parents and other caregivers have the skills they need to support their children’s literacy.”

Christine Kenny, executive director of Literacy Works, said the key objectives are Evanston provides and ensures access to parenting support and skill and relationship building; adult family members/caregivers have needed literacy skills; and all Evanston educational systems encourage and empower adult family caregivers to be involved in their family’s education.

Some indicators of success are the percentage of children entering kindergarten with two years of pre-school; daily attendance rates; the percent of eligible families engaged in a home visiting program; and the percent of parents attending parent/teacher conferences, said Ms. Kenny.

Community Supports Working Group

Key Objective: “Evanston resources work together to build the capacity for literacy within Evanston.”

Michelle Hays, PTA and chair of Brummel Park Neighbors, said, “Our primary impact is on the community organizations that could support literacy or that do support literacy.”

There are two long-term goals: seeing that literacy is brought into the community where people are; and finding diverse organizations that can incorporate literacy into their programing.

Ms. Hayes said the group members have interviewed representatives of social service agencies to determine what services they provide, who their target market is, and other information. “Our goal is eventually to see if we can identify where gaps in services exist and how we might be able to plug things into those gaps.”

Another strategy is to inform the community about EC2C. One way is to set up mini-libraries – which might hold about 25 books – in parks throughout the City. The hope is this will help build awareness of EC2C and draw people and organizations into the initiative.

Sheila Merry, executive director of EC2C, said the Evanston Public Library has agreed to curate the mini-libraries and select books based on who is likely to make use of them.

Overall Comments

After the working groups made their presentations, the Literacy Team as a whole discussed the proposals.

One person raised the issue that EC2C should not lose sight of the fact that youth in the middle need resources too.

Ms. Merry responded, “Cradle to Career is about all of our kids.” She added that she heard repeatedly when talking to people in the community, “There’s lots of free services if you qualify for free- or reduced-fee lunch, but if you’re a working class family making enough not to qualify, you’re excluded from a lot of that and you’re still struggling.”

Another person commented, “I’m not sure I heard much discussion about what needs to be done differently, as opposed to just more of.”

Ms. Merry said, “My guess is, in part, we’re still figuring out what is being done now to get to that point. But it’s a very legitimate point that Cradle to Career ultimately, to be effective, has to be not just about doing more of what we’re already doing, but making sure that we’re looking at what we’re doing and figuring out if there are ways to do it differently to be more effective. Part of that is coordinating, but part of that is changing what we’re doing. I think that’s a very helpful point.”

Sue Munro of Evanston Community Foundation referred to goals of the cradle to career initiative in Cincinnati, which were academically focused and organized around post-secondary success. “To keep us going,” she said, “I think there’s going to have to be some goal that really energizes people, so that we have data around something that we can all contribute to over time.”

“I agree,” said Ms. Merry. “I think right now our goals are so amorphous that it could be hard to see progress.”

Ms. Merry told the RoundTable in a separate interview, “This is still very much a work in progress. The next step is I have tried to pull together what the groups talked about. Then I’m taking that back to the operations team to see how things fit together and whether there are groups that we need to sit down with and help clarify what metrics might look like and what are strategies that will clearly build on one another toward a longer term goal.

“We’re still getting there,” Ms. Merry added. “This was a first stab at the committee’s initial thinking. I think our next steps are really now to take that and really hone it and clarify it and get much more clarity of vision about how we will move forward from here.”

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...