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At the Dec. 16 meeting of the Community Literacy Solution Design Team of the Evanston Cradle to Career Initiative (EC2C), Sheila Merry, executive director, referred to the Dec. 14 District 65 School Board meeting. At that meeting, many African American parents and community members called for action to address the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

“It was an extraordinary moving experience, I think, for anyone who was there around the level of frustration,” said Ms. Merry. She said people at the meeting expressed “their frustration and their disappointment at the lagging and continuing, devastating test numbers for African American students.

“At the same time the people were expressing frustration, I think there was also an, ‘Ok. We all have to act on this. This is all of our problem. We all need to figure out how we’re going to change this – what it needs to look like and how we can come together as a community.’

“For me it was a reinforcement of the incredible importance of the work we’re doing here,” continued Ms. Merry. She said she hoped it would inspire people serving on the Literacy Team not to get frustrated if it took longer than expected to achieve the goals they had set to be completed by Dec. 31. She added, that the comments at the Board meeting, “add to our sense of urgency. 0ur children are growing up and far too many of them don’t have the skills they need to be successful. We as a community need to do something to change that.”

The overall long-term goal of EC2C is, “By the age of 23, all Evanston young adults will be leading productive lives.” There are now 41 institutions and non-profit organizations who have committed to work together to achieve that goal.

The Literacy Team has more than 50 people serving on five working groups that are attempting to address the needs of infants, children, youth and families in a holistic fashion. Their goal is to ensure that children, youth, and families have the literacy and reading skills they need to be successful in life.

Some of the short-term strategies identified include focusing on the 0-3 age group, establishing a City-wide program of texting parenting tips, and establishing an initiative to address the 30 million word gap that exists at age 3; gathering additional information about participation in early childhood programs on the District 65 kindergarten registration form; developing a common understanding of what it means to be kindergarten-ready, and ultimately preparing more children to be kindergarten-ready; creating a “211 call system” to connect or refer families to resources available in the community; connecting existing literacy programs with other programs in the community; and expanding the connections between youth and young adults and viable employers.

Ms. Merry said a community engagement team is also working to “make sure we’re engaging folks who are from the communities most significantly impacted. … I’m going to follow up with the parents who were involved at the School Board meeting to see if we can get them engaged in a meaningful way.”

EC2C is planning to have a retreat for its partnering organizations in late January, at which the five action teams will give a progress report on implementing their short-term strategies, and also sketch out an action plan for the next six to 12 months. The retreat will also provide an opportunity for the partners to refocus and plan how to move forward.

This article was updated on Jan. 13, 2016

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...