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ECF Two-Generation Initiative aims to narrow achievement gap

Wed, Apr 30, 2014

Artishia Hunter

Artishia Hunter

The Evanston Community Foundation’s Two-Generation Initiative is building on the goal of providing equitable access to education and narrowing the gap in achievement between people of lower and higher economic means, says Sara Schastok, ECF president and CEO.

Launched February 18, the 13-week pilot program provides educational, financial and career guidance for parents simultaneous with early education for their children up to age 6. Instead of isolation, mothers gain the support of other women like themselves as they begin career exploration or education and training that can help them better support their families. The program draws from ECF’s kindergarten-to-workforce readiness initiative, “Every Child Ready for Kindergarten, Every Youth Ready for Work,” but it also follows values set in 2006 with the Community Works program funded by the Grand Victoria Foundation, which encompassed economic development, early childhood education and the environment, Schastok said.

“What we are providing is an opportunity for parents to plan and think about their careers,” said Artishia Hunter, director of Evanston Two-Generation at ECF. “What do they want to learn about themselves, what are their employable skills, their transferrable skills? They gain a greater sense of awareness.”

The Initiative has been made possible by a $100,000 grant from Ascend at the Aspen Institute, which notes in prepared material that 45 percent of all U.S. children now live in low-income households. “Shifting income, family structure, and racial and ethnic demographics and concurrent budget constraints demand new ways of working, as well as new pathways to stability for families.”

The Evanston Two-Generation Education Initiative also draws upon award-winning research from Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR).

A mix of community nonprofits and businesses have also come together to support the Initiative, including Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Family Center and Early Childhood Programs, Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, Childcare Center of Evanston, Evanston Public Library, Evanston/North Shore YWCA, Oakton Community College, National Able Network, and IRMCO Manufacturing.

A Northwestern IPR team, led by developmental psychologist Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and senior research scientist Teresa Eckrich Sommer, are conducting research on the implementation and effectiveness of two-generation initiatives nationally, and in turn this research is being used to design, implement and expand the pilot model in Evanston. They also will be evaluating the implementation and effectiveness of the Evanston Two-Generation Education Initiative.

To learn more about the Initiative and the research behind it, the public is welcome at a policy research briefing co-sponsored by ECF from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wed., April 16 at Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave.

Chase-Lansdale, who is Frances Willard Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, Associate Provost for Faculty and IPR Fellow at Northwestern and IPR scientist Sommer will be on the panel as well as Sara Goldrick-Rab, associate professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Mesmin Destin, assistant professor of human development and social policy and of psychology and an IPR associate at Northwestern. David Figlio, IPR director and fellow, and Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy and of Economics at Northwestern will moderate. The event includes dinner and registration is required at http://www.ipr.northwestern.edu/events/briefing/two-generation-solutions.html

ECF’s Two-Generation Initiative is giving parents who may have been reactive in the past the space to become proactive and intentional about their futures, Hunter said. “They get to know each other, to know they are not doing this alone. They are there to learn from one another, to support one another. The cohort model is one of the core pieces.”

National ABLE recently provided financial literacy programming for one of the two-hour, 13-week sessions. Participants discussed how they budgeted their money and dreams such as buying a house or financing their children’s college education. What kinds of jobs would enable them to afford what they want?

The program “opens up their lenses,” Hunter said, about in-demand, higher-paid careers such as health care, manufacturing, information technology, transportation and logistics and it gives them room to explore: is a given job their dream or someone else’s dream for them? And what kind of training do they need?

Although the program is open to dads, there are only 13 women age 21 to 37 in the pilot; they range from unemployed to early childhood care or hotel worker. Seven are single and six are married.

Part of the program involves setting goals. Hunter, who came from the Illinois Early Childhood Fellowship program and who has 14 years of experience in elementary and early childhood education, meets with participants one-on-one. One woman is thinking about becoming a dental assistant and another is already working with Oakton Community College on enrollment in courses toward becoming an OB-GYN nurse.

Integrating educational and economic opportunities for children and their parents is an effective use of resources, especially since parents’ educational attainment is the best predictor of economic mobility for children in the U.S., said Aspen Institute Vice President and Ascend Executive Director Anne Mosle. “We are also witnessing the power of ‘mutual motivation’ – when a child observes her parent learning, and vice versa – which an help give the whole family a better shot at success.”

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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