Cradle to Career works against inequitable policies

Lauren Dain and Sydney Ter Molen

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In hopes of creating future success for all Evanston youth, the Evanston Cradle to Career Initiative is attempting to dismantle certain educational policies that put students of color and students from low-income families at a disadvantage.

“I think the most important part of Cradle to Career is that it really is focused on recognizing the inequities in our communities and trying to find out how we can change the system that undermines youth and families,” Executive Director Sheila Merry says.

Working with students from preschool age all the way through high school and beyond, EC2C helps students create plans for what their lives are going to look like entering adulthood.

Cradle to Career’s idea of success is less academic focused and more geared towards getting students mentally and emotionally prepared for major steps in their lives.

EC2C is a collective impact effort. There are many of the same initiatives throughout the country which all function under the same mission.

The mission of a collective impact group such as Evanston’s Cradle to Career, “is not to create a new program, it is taking existing community groups and coming together as partners to achieve a big goal,” ETHS school board member Gretchen Livingston says.

Evanston Cradle to Career initiative was created in 2015 and since then, has gained over 40 partners, all with the same goal of aligning Evanston’s existing resources to better support Evanston’s young people. Some of the organizations that are involved are YMCA, Family Focus, Northwestern, Y.O.U and ETHS.

“It is really the only place where [all the organizations] come together,” says Livingston. “The partners in this effort are the ones who really drive the work in the organizations and the partners virtually include every non-profit in the city of Evanston.”

“The one partner they were missing was the community,” EC2C’s community engagement coordinator Kimberly Holmes-Ross adds.

Because of this, Holmes-Ross worked to create more action teams to tackle specific issues seen in Evanston which could halt a student’s opportunity of attaining that objective.

These action teams, such as “Prepared for Adult Life” meet with the various EC2C partners to accomplish the goals for their team. Livingston, who sits on the “Prepared for Adult Life” action team, says that their main goal is getting students ready for post-high school.

There are many action teams ranging from “Parent and Caregiver Empowerment” to “Literacy On-Track,” but the “Prepared for Adult Life” action team is the most involved within ETHS because of their focus on high school students.

EC2C has collaborated in many ways with ETHS. They have worked with Mayor Steve Hagerty’s summer youth employment program and the ETHS Job Center in an effort to help students think about what their plans would be entering the workforce.

“[There is] a new position at the [ETHS] Youth Job Center that will work directly with businesses around making sure there are clear pathways for young people to get livable wage jobs,” Merry says.

Since EC2C does not directly work with students, Holmes-Ross established a group called Advocates for Action, a community leadership council to work with EC2C. After the success of Advocates for Action, EC2C worked to create a similar group using student voices, something that had previously been lacking. This second group consists of 15 student advocates who will undergo leadership training over this month. Most of these advocates will focus on early childhood equity.

“The big goal of Cradle to Career leads to having young people from birth to age 24 be productive, contributing members of society,” Livingston says. “When you don’t have that voice represented, it is hard to dictate how that is going to happen.”

Junior Advocacy board member Anna Grant-Bolton works with EC2C to recruit a range of additional student advocates. Grant-Bolton originally partnered with EC2C through Emerge, a sophomore community service program. Her group primarily focused on the racial achievement gap.

“C2C is doing amazing work, and my group wanted to be a part of the solution,” Grant-Bolton says.