Local nonprofit STEM School Evanston is hosting a “community talk back” at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 10 at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St.

Researchers and volunteers with the nonprofit will present the findings from a multi-year study funded by Northwestern University and conducted by professors and graduate students, on Amplifying Black Voices in Educational Equity in Evanston.

Assistant Professor of African American Studies kihana miraya ross, the project’s lead researcher, and her team interviewed nearly 400 Black Evanstonians about their personal experiences with public education in Evanston and what they want to see done differently for their children and grandchildren.

Gilo Kwesi Logan, a diversity and leadership consultant and a longtime educator at Northeastern Illinois University, will facilitate a conversation among residents and survey respondents at the May 10 event. Dinner will be provided, and the organizers have asked attendees to register in advance at this link.

Community Talk Back event flyer. Credit: Submitted

In March, ross had presented preliminary survey findings to the District 65 school board that showed 37% of respondents agreed that “overall, teachers want Black students to succeed” at the elementary level. That number went down to 34% for middle schools. But ross also stressed she thought opening a new community school in the Fifth Ward could really help reverse decades of distrust toward local school districts among Evanston’s Black community.

New school is ‘significant’

“I think the opening of the school will be very significant, and I just want to say that this data was collected just on the heels of the decision to reopen the school. And there are folks who still don’t quite believe that it’s going to happen,” ross said. “So I think actually seeing it happen, for Black folks in particular, will make a huge difference.”

The RoundTable sat down with STEM School Evanston founder Henry Wilkins to get a preview of some of the project results that will be discussed at the community talk back later this month. Among other things, survey respondents overwhelmingly supported these measures:

  • More Black support staff, social workers and counselors who can empathize with the experiences of Black students
  • More Black educators, so Black kids can see themselves represented among their teachers
  • The inclusion of Black history and culture in the curriculum
  • Options for an African Centered Curriculum (ACC) and a STEM-focused curriculum at the Fifth Ward school
  • A community model for the Fifth Ward school that includes before and after-school programming at Family Focus and Fleetwood-Jourdain
District 202 Superintendent Marcus Campbell (left) and Henry Wilkins, STEM School Evanston founder, at the MashUp 2022 event last November. Credit: Evan Girard

Wilkins said he is working with Family Focus officials as they launch their own $11 million renovation in the hopes of getting support for a STEM-specific library to be included in the new Family Focus building, which is set to be completed in 2025. The latest design plans for the Fifth Ward school include a gym and a media center with a library, computers and other technology. Wilkins and STEM School Evanston also want a space for hands-on, project-based learning in math and science.

“We want to emphasize that we heard you [the survey respondents], and we want to give an opportunity to say ‘Hey, did we get it right? Did we get what you said right?’ So it will be an opportunity for them to reaffirm and confirm what we found,” Wilkins said. “Or they might say ‘That’s not quite what I was hoping you would get from this.’ It’s a two-way conversation. And obviously, we want the decision makers to hear the data and do something with it.”

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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