The Community Literacy Solution Design Team of the Evanston Cradle to Career initiative (EC2C) outlined some steps they plan to take by Dec. 31, and some they planned to take longer-term at a meeting on Oct. 13 at Evanston Township High School. More than 50 people representing more than 25 organizations attended, including the School Districts, the City of Evanston, and many non-profits.

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 Literacy Team is broken into five working groups to address children’s needs in a holistic fashion.

The Caregiver Empowerment Working Group has narrowed its focus to the 0-3 age group. The group plans to launch a “text-a-tip” initiative by Dec. 31, under which parents of youth will receive texts on their cell phones that provide tips on how to promote their children’s literacy. The group hopes to centralize the program at the Evanston Public Library and to partner with providers of home-visiting programs, early childhood programs and parenting programs to initiate the program. Longer term, the group would like to reach out to doctors and hospitals. Text-a-tip programs have been successful in other communities.

The group also plans to bring a “30 Million Words Initiative” to Evanston. On Sept. 24, Dr. Dana Suskind, founder of the initiative, spoke in Evanston about the importance of parents talking to their children and how increased talk and taking turns is essential to the optimal development of a child’s brain. The group also plans to partner with students at Northwestern University to help launch a public awareness campaign explaining the importance of parent talk.

The Literacy On-Track Working Group’s key outcome is, “Children and youth have the literacy skills needed at all stages to support academic success.” The group has been focusing on the age group, 3-5, and what can be done to ensure that all children experience high-quality early childhood education and are ready for kindergarten. One immediate focus is to refine District 65’s kindergarten registration form to collect more detailed data about the participation of children ages 3-5 in early childhood programs, said Renee Neumeier, co-chair of the on-track literacy group and young adult librarian at Evanston Public Library. The group is also looking at best practices and what is usable by teachers in early childhood education settings and kindergarten to help their kids. The group is also looking at the possibility of professional development for teachers in early childhood education and kindergarten.

The Prepared for Adult Life Working Group plans to use surveys and focus groups of employers and youth who are looking for jobs to determine what’s working and what’s not working and how they can support employers to hire qualified candidates, and also to prepare youth with the skills that they need to be employable. The group will focus on trying to use the Mayor’s Youth Job Fair in February 2016 as a way to intervene immediately in the short term. The medium- and long-term strategy is to try to engage employers to encourage them to hire more Evanston youth and also help the kids to be employable, said Kathy Lyons, executive director of the Moran Center.

The Well-Being and Safety Working Group plans to implement a local 2-1-1 service, which people may call and receive referrals on a host of human services, such as a housing problem, a medical problem or a security issue. Candance Chow, a member of the District 65 School Board, said the group plans to launch a pilot of the program in December by extending the function of the City’s 311 system, with a few partners who can address a few core areas. Interfaith Housing has already signed up. A number of States and communities throughout the country provide a 2-1-1 service.

Ms. Chow added that Karen Singer, executive director of YWCA, has offered to convene a meeting of service providers to talk about what in the system is not working and to gather information from families to get their perspective about where they go for help, what’s not working for them and what obstacles they face. “We have to get on the same page,” Ms. Chow said. “What are our biggest issues here today getting in the way of a thriving family and kids being ready to learn?” She added the group has looked at some national models that may help in coming up with long-term solutions.

The Community Supports working group is close to putting a mini-library on the ground. The mini-libraries will each house about 20 books that people may borrow, but they will also bring awareness to the EC2C. The group is also working on developing a data base of programs available in Evanston, and identifying places that might be regarded as “non-traditional” places to establish literacy programs.

“We are making some important progress,” said Sheila Merry, executive director of EC2C. Speaking to members of the Literacy Team, she said, “I hope you’re hearing that the work that you’re doing in the committees is really building on one another. … I think in reality we’re doing things that are going to complement one another very well.”

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...