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Evanston goal: all kids age 23 ‘leading productive lives’

Tue, Aug 5, 2014

William Symonds, author of the Harvard “Pathways to Prosperity” study

William Symonds, author of the Harvard “Pathways to Prosperity” study

In stark contrast to the richness of Evanston, too many young people are not realizing their potential in life because of racial and social injustice and divisions between families, children and organizations. Evanston Community Foundation (ECF) officials say that for too long, individuals have been blamed when the real need is for a change in the system.

Toward that goal, ECF created a Cradle-To-Career (EC2C) initiative where all Evanstonians at age 23 will be leading productive lives, building on the resources and education given to them and their families.

The latest development is the final report of last October’s Evanston150 “Learn to Work and Work to Learn” (LWWL) career pathways conference. Issued in June, the LWWL report recommends merging its effort with that of the EC2C initiative. The report also repeats its original stated goal: to make Evanston a national role model for creating educational and career opportunities for high school- and college-age youth disconnected from school and workplace.

The report says that initially, its goal was to develop a vocational/co-op technical school to serve a diverse population; the school was one of “10 big ideas” in the Evanston150 sesquicentennial celebration. But after meeting with stakeholders, the LWWL report said that the mandate was modified to “a significant workforce development program/process to meet 21st century workforce needs…centered on curriculum and practical work experience with the principal objective being to increase job readiness and meaningful employment.”

Task force officials were motivated by two reports: one from a White House conference chaired by Michelle Obama on youth age 16-24 who are out of school and out of work and by “Pathways to Prosperity,” published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Pathways author William Symonds was a keynote speaker at the October 25 LWWL conference, in which he warned against the “one road to heaven fallacy:” that all students should undertake a college prep curriculum in high school, then go to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree. Just 1 in 3 jobs created in the last decade require a four-year degree, Symonds said. Roughly another 1 in 3 jobs demand just a two-year associate’s degree or certificate.

Illinois Business Roundtable President Jeff Mays, who helped to start the Illinois Pathways Initiative in line with Symonds’ concept of more than one road to career success, also spoke at the conference. Mays described the Illinois Pathways partnership between state agencies, such as the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and K-12 schools, businesses and higher education. Illinois Pathways seeks to offer hands-on training and early college opportunities in nine career clusters: health science, agriculture, information technology, finance, architecture and construction, transportation and logistics, manufacturing, research and development and energy.

Attendees at the October 25 conference were leery of creating a caste-like system of vocational education versus college and they acknowledged family crises or homelessness among some students. As a result, the final report advocated embedding career pathway education and readiness skills in academic core courses across all grade levels. Existing organizations such as ETHS, Oakton, Youth Job Center, YOU, the YMCA and YWCA could deliver these programs.

Finding local and regional employers willing to train kids on their first jobs was a “building block” toward the goal of making Evanston a national leader. Sacella Smith, executive director of the Evanston YJC, said during a conference panel on “What Works” that in-school training by a major drug store chain led to young people receiving a state credential as pharmacy technicians and starting pay of $13 an hour. Smith called the technician’s license a “stackable credential:” the young people could go on to an associate’s degree or higher at a better salary.

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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One Response to “Evanston goal: all kids age 23 ‘leading productive lives’”

  1. Ted Bailey says:

    Wonderful to hear about such a progressive and thoughtful initiative !

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