Representatives of five working teams of the Evanston Cradle to Career initiative (EC2C) gave a short summary of some key things their teams worked on in 2016 at a Jan. 18 meeting held at Evanston Township High School.

Katie Pacyna, the Data Manager of EC2C who led the discussion, emphasized the summaries were intended to be “very truncated” five-minute reports.

The teams reported on their initiatives to help children in the 0-3 age group, to better prepare children for kindergarten and provide pre-K information to kindergarten teachers, to address “summer learning loss,” to help educate parents on trauma-informed care and make social services more accessible, and to help students with post-secondary planning.

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 overall mission of EC2C is “By the age of 23, all Evanston young adults will be leading productive lives.”

More than 40 organizations are currently partnering in EC2C.

Ages 0-3

The Parent Caregiver Action Team is focusing on the 0-3 age group. “We want to help parents and caregivers understand how important early literacy is at these stages,” said Laura Antolin, Outreach Librarian with Evanston Public Library. “It is very important to start right now. You can’t wait until kids are 3, 4, or 5 years old. You have to start working on early literacy skills and strategies from the moment a child is born,” she said.

“We really want to put out messages to parents and find a way to provide some strategies to parents and caregivers that are easy to use right away. We spent a lot of time evaluating what’s out there, what already exists,” Ms. Antolin said.

 Ms. Antolin said they looked at using an App called Vroom that provides early literacy activities and brain research, almost tailored to age. The team also looked at implementing a text messaging program, in which parents are periodically sent a text message that suggests things they can do with children in the 0-3 age group to help them develop early literacy skills. Text-messaging programs have been successful in other communities.

The team formed a Parent Advisory Group, said Ms. Antolin, to take a look at various options, and found, “Parents of kids in that age group are hungry for information and interested in receiving it.

“So we started our own text-messaging program,” said Ms. Antolin. Under the program, texts are sent to parents two times a week, with a suggested activity. They started in April with 81 parents, and now have 331. 

The team has also been working on developing a “Talk, Read, Sing” program. The program is designed to help parents recognize that they can promote their child’s early brain development and vocabulary through simple activities, such as describing things while walking outside, by talking about pictures in a book, or singing songs together.

Ms. Antolin said they have been working with Too Small to Fail, a partnership sponsoring the Talk, Read, Sing program. “They’ve been very helpful and supportive of using their information to augment the kinds of things we want to get out.”

Ms. Antolin said they have been preparing an information campaign, including working with medical professionals. “We’re at a point where Erie, NorthShore, and Presence St. Francis are poised to receive our campaign material. We think it will happen in the next five weeks,” she said.

Literacy on Track

The Literacy on Track Committee has been working on three main areas, said Diane Lequar, President of the Board of Foundation 65.

First, Ms. Lequar said, the team worked with District 65 to redesign the kindergarten registration form to gather better data on each child’s pre-kindergarten experience. The revised forms are providing better data “about the precise path children have taken so we can identify programs that are doing well … and identify some of the things they are doing and share with the programs where kids are coming in not on the same level.”

She added that incoming kindergarten students came from more than 118 different early childhood settings in and outside Evanston.”

Second, Ms. Lequar said the team has been developing “a strong start to a kindergarten set of goals. … We have had wonderful cooperation between District 65 and early childhood providers who put together those strong set of goals,” she said, adding that they now need to publicize the goals so educators know about them, and so parents understand what activities will help their children to be ready for kindergarten.

She added, “We’re going to help parents and caregivers understand some of the things they can do, not necessarily academic things, but what are the things you can do to make your child happy and able to cope in kindergarten.”

 “The third thing,” Ms. Lequar said, “was picking out an effective, efficient, useful way to transfer what we call the ‘gold mine’ of information of early childhood education to the principals and kindergarten teachers who are going to be receiving the information.

 “We are hoping that bringing information to teachers, principals, and social workers about the kids’ experience and what kinds of support they may need will allow those supports to be quickly made in the school year.

“Teachers and early childhood educators are totally invested in this. They want this to succeed and we can tap into that.”

Addressing Summer Learning Loss

Missy Fleming said the Community Support Action Team sponsored a book drive during the summer in which they collected about 650 books, and have overseen the installation of “little libraries” in five public parks, but added, “I really want to focus on ‘summer reading loss’ program.”

Several studies show that a child from a middle-income household with access to various enrichment activities during the summer months will advance about one month in reading level over the summer, but a child from an economically disadvantaged household will lose about two months in reading level over the summer.

McGaw YMCA piloted a summer program in 2012 to address summer reading loss, and has partnered with School District 65 since then to expand the program. Foundation 65 has partnered with District 65 to provide books and teacher follow-up to young students during the summer. Last summer, ministers associated with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary established a Freedom School in the Fifth Ward, of which literacy was a strong part.

Ms. Fleming said last summer there were about 15-20 programs in Evanston that provided various levels of literacy support during the summer. For the first time, the City’s sports camps set aside a 20-minute reading session each day. 

Ms. Fleming said the team has gathered qualitative data on the programs from the organizations that participated, what they did, and how many kids participated. She said the team would like to help the organizations work together and expand the summer programing to help increase children’s literacy skills. “We want to build on what is there and expand it,” she said.

Trauma and Access to Social Services

Yolanda Kim, Medical Social Worker at Evanston Township High School Student Health Center, described two things the Well-Being, Health, & Safety Action Team is doing.

First, Ms. Kim said the team is working on educating the community about trauma-informed care. She said the team plans to provide a group training session for mental health workers who can in turn educate parents about trauma-informed care. Students are learning about trauma in District 65 classrooms, she said, so an issue is “How can we reach out to the parents so they are also informed about this area, so they can meet their children where they are?”

Ms. Kim said the team has two modules. The first is, “What is trauma?” The second is, “What to do about it.”

In addition, Ms. Kim said, the team has worked with the City to add social services to the City’s 311 system, so that the City’s 311 operators are now able to refer callers to some social services provided by non-profit organizations or other institutions in Evanston. She said they still have a lot of work to do to make it a comprehensive system. One thing the team would like to do is determine what services are being sought in the community, and where are the gaps.

“Our goal is to provide easier access for all community members,” said Ms. Kim.

Prepared for Adult Life

Karen Tollenaar Demorest, Executive Director of the Youth Job Center, summarized three things the Prepared for Adult Life Action team focused on.

First, the team is doing a “landscape assessment” of what resources are available to high school students, as they are thinking about their future and preparing for adult life.

Ms. Demorest said the team wants the landscape assessment to “guide our work,” and to better inform the team about what resources are available to students and families for preparation into adulthood. In addition, they want to determine what the “best practices” are in terms of implementing programs and engaging students, so they could share the best practices.

A second goal, Ms. Demorest said, is to increase the awareness of youth about available programs, for example to help them connect to the Mayor’s Youth Job Summer program, which helped to provide jobs to approximately 600 youth last summer. 

The team’s efforts were more about increasing youth’s awareness and participation in the summer youth job fair. Ms. Demorest said. “The part that we didn’t get to was really engaging more employers to provide more job opportunities in the area.”

The third area is secondary planning, “really thinking about the breadth of options available to students, post-secondary, of course, being one, but credentialing and other options as well,” said Ms. Demorest. The team is trying to figure out how “we need to work with students to help them in the post-secondary planning.”

Evanston Township High School can get to a point where every student has a post-secondary plan, she said. External partners need to gain a deeper understanding of what role they can play in supporting that process.

The five action teams generally meet together once a month and the individual teams more often.

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...