A 30-day challenge for mental health, the Game of Homelessness and presentations at City meetings were among the projects created by the 34 Evanston Township High School students in the Emerge program. With guidance from ETHS juniors, volunteers from Northwestern University and a community partner, the students studied the high school and the Evanston community with an eye to seeing how they could make things better.

On May 8, they presented their projects to their peers and families. Each presentation included not only the project itself but also reflections about what they learned, the challenges they faced and their ideas about how to sustain the project. 

Emerge focuses on developing leadership through service. The high school and college students help the sophomores develop leadership skills and apply those skills to group projects that positively impact the community.

After meeting with community leaders early in the fall, the eight student groups winnowed their ideas to settle on a project of the proper scope and depth: advocating for affordable housing, making students aware of the school-based health center, encouraging use of the free resource Khan Academy for test preparation, becoming certified in Kingian Nonviolence, increasing awareness of non-college post-secondary options, advocating for environmental justice, giving students a place to voice their ideas and improving mental health among ETHS students.

Although the groups worked independently from each other, the students found they faced similar challenges and learned similar skills in leadership, time management, prioritization, teamwork and collaboration.

“The process is more important than the result,” said one student. “You can’t rely on one person or system,” said another. “Don’t force your ideas on others; listen to them,” added another.

Mary Collins, Community Service Coordinator  at ETHS and sponsor of Emerge, described the dedication and passion of the students.

Jennifer Moran of Leadership Evanston told the students, “You still have two years left at ETHS [to make a difference]. … This is something you are to really value through the rest of your years – it’s valuable for yourselves, and it’s valuable for the community.”

The names of the projects, the community partners, and some of their findings and activities

Town Unity in Evanston: Advocating for Affordable Housing in Evanston. Community Partner, Sue Loellbach, Manager of Advocacy at Connections

The average annual income in Evanston is $70,041.

“Affordable” means not spending more than 30% of one’s income on housing.

About 100 ETHS students are homeless.

The group spoke at the April 30 City Council meeting about their views on affordable housing. They plan to attend additional City Council meetings and ETHS School Board meetings “to stay informed on the policies that will hopefully be changed and to hopefully continue making statements … to show that we as students care about this issue too.” They also plan to present the Game Of Homelessness to ETHS students, to help them realize how a person can become homeless.

Health & Wellness in Evanston: School-Based Health Center. Community Partners, Lynn Chehab, M.D., and Joyce Sia, ETSH Health Center.

Not all ETHS students and families take advantage of the Health Center; 2,000 of the 3,200 ETHS students are registered.

Some students think the Nurse’s Office and the Health Center are the same thing.

Among the services provided are physicals, acupuncture and concussion protocols.

The group is making a video to advertise the Health Center, to be disseminated to eighth graders to make their families aware of the Health Center and the services it provides.

Academic Achievement at ETHS: Test Prep For All Students. Community Partner, Carrie Levy, Ph.D., Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment at ETHS.

Eighty-seven percent of colleges rely “heavily” on SAT scores for admission.

Khan Academy says it can raise scores with about 20 hours of test preparation.

Khan Academy is a free resource, but not all students know about it.

The group created a poster to make ETHS students aware of Khan Academy and encourage them to use it.

Unity, Diversity, and Inclusion at ETHS: Strategy for Violence Prevention: Kingian Nonviolence Training. Community Partners, Assistant Principal Keith Robinson and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Coordinator Anya Pierce.

Discipline at ETHS is mostly in the form of restorative justice. It takes kids out of class and can be disruptive.

There are “a lot of” fights at ETHS. At North Lawndale Prep in Chicago, where Kingian Nonviolence has been implemented, there were only two fights last year.

Kingian Nonviolence can help decrease violence and racial inequity in suspensions.

There are six principles of Kingian Nonviolence, and peace is possible.

ETHS had received a grant to train students in Kingian Nonviolence. Eight students received the training, including all members of the group.

Academic Achievement in Evanston: Increasing Awareness/Reducing Stigmas: Post-Secondary Options. Potential Partner, Post-Secondary School Counselor Michelle Vazquez, College and Career Services

Many students do not attend a four-year college because of financial reasons; 70% of students who go to college take out a loan.

Fifty percent of ETHS students do not graduate from a four-year college. Some do not attend a four-year college; some do enroll but drop out.

About 100 students leave ETHS each year without a post-secondary plan.

Students who do not plan to attend a four-year college may not be aware of such options as trade schools, apprenticeships and local businesses willing to hire and train ETHS grads.

The students plan to work with the College and Career Services office to make students aware of job fairs, online tools, career quizzes and other resources.

Environment in Evanston: Advocating for Environmental Justice. Community Partner, Environmental Justice Evanston, a committee of Citizens Greener Evanston.

Students canvassed and surveyed areas in the Fifth and Second Wards near ETHS.

Environmental issues identified by residents were the waste transfer station, the proposed pumping station, a lack of green space and a lack of trash cans.

The group members attended a Fifth Ward meeting and planned to attend a Second Ward meeting to learn about environmental justice issues there. From what they learn, they plan to create a map showing environmental justice “hotspots” in Evanston.

Student Voice in ETHS: Giving Students a Place to Voice Ideas. Community Partner, ETHS Student Senate.

Students need an easy way to have their voices heard.

A mailbox will allow students to voice their opinions and concerns anonymously, if desired.

Student interest and participation in certain programs and events can be gauged through use of the mailbox.

By putting the mailbox in the library, “we will receive the most serious inquiries.”

The mailbox is not yet up and running, but when it is, it will provide a unique place where students’ voices can be heard.

Health & Wellness at ETHS: Improving Mental Health – the 30-Day Challenge. Community Partner, Physical Education Teacher Kathleen Weber.

There is a greater stigma and there are fewer voices heard about mental health issues.

Twenty percent of youth are affected by a form of mental illness, and many do not receive treatment or even a diagnosis.

“Mental health and specifically self-care are stigmatized and not seen as a priority in society.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24.

The group created an Instagram, @ethskitcare, and posted self-care tips, information, challenges and photos of people at ETHS completing the challenges. The challenge, which lasted 30 days, included such things as “meditate for five minutes” and “turn your phone off for an hour.”  The challenge raised awareness and provided a tool to create positive habits.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...