Can we make Evanston's elementary and middle schools equitable?
THE D65 "PTA Equity Project" (PEP) is trying to do just that, and they need your help.
From September 24 to September 28, eat at Evanston restaurants that are participating in Evanston Restaurant Week and they'll donate a portion of every dollar you spend to support the work of the D65 PTA PEP, a two-year-old project that seeks to make D65 PTAs more equitable across all schools.
Please click here to find out more about Evanston Restaurant Week: facebook.com/events/2096422513952568/.
To find out more about PEP: facebook.com/PTAEquityProject
Liz Rolewicz is a member of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 PEP and represents Oakton Elementary School along with reps from every school in D65. I asked her to tell me more about the PEP project, it's goals, and why she's involved.
(The committee also includes a D65 teacher and principal advisor, a PTA Council rep, a Foundation 65 rep, a school board rep, and a diversity and inclusion expert who is also a D65 parent.)
DE: What exactly is the PEP project?
LR: The PTA Equity Project's (PEP) goal is to ensure that students in D65 have more equitable access to the important enrichments many PTAs provide -- including field trips, in-school assemblies, community-building events, after school programming and more -- regardless of the school they attend.
DE: What schools in Evanston are considered under-served?
LR: Elementary and magnet schools PTAs’ abilities to fundraise ranged from $50 to $286 per student when we collected our data. We have a couple of schools that have limited or no capacity to raise any money at all, due their specific special needs.
We decided that for our first step we want to bring every school up to a minimum of $70 per student. We know that this will not even approach equality or equity, but it’s a start, and can potentially fund at least one more enrichment per student.
DE: In what ways do you consider them underserved?
LR: We found that some schools spend their fundraising on basic needs, which we defined as things like clothes, food, eyeglasses, etc., whereas other schools are spending on true enrichments, such as field trips, the arts, and scholarships. And we were upset to realize that the schools who were covering basic needs, didn’t have enough funds left over for “fun stuff”.
We feel this is a big detriment and has a compounding, significant impact on how our kids experience their elementary years, based on nothing more than what school they are zoned for.
DE: Shouldn't all school PTAs at Evanston D65 schools have the same amount of money to spend on projects for parents and students? Is that your goal?
LR: In a perfect world, yes, we believe that all kids in D65 should have an equal, quality experience from grades K-8. But the issue can be a contentious one, when it comes to sharing resources across schools. There's a belief that some schools will have to lose something in order for another school to gain something.
But we believe that we all rise up together, and when we improve the conditions of one school, it has a positive net effect when they all reach Evanston Township High School (ETHS) together on the same footing, and it ripples throughout the community.
We are broadening our definition of community, communicating across schools, and choosing to see all D65 kids as our kids.
This PTA funding conversation has been happening on a national level for a long time, and very few school districts have been able to successfully balance resources across schools. It's really is a testament to the people of Evanston that we have accomplished this at all.
I think it does represent the equity-mindedness as well as the philanthropic nature of much of Evanston, that we have so much support, and so many who care about the quality of life of children outside of their immediate sphere.
DE: What kinds of parent education do you do regarding equity and what do you hope to achieve?
LR: Facilitated by Biz Lindsay-Ryan, we've offered equity training to all of our committee reps, with the hope that they will take this knowledge back to their school PTAs and create their own equity programming. This might include offering trainings like Beyond Diversity, Courageous Conversations, creating an Equity Committee, or racial affinity groups at their schools. We hope that Equity will become a top priority for the PTAs, and so far we have seen a lot of great things happening.
DE: What else can you tell me about PEP's work and why it's important?
LR: I think that our greatest achievement so far is just bringing the issue to light. None of us knew the extent of the disparity, and why would we? Schools do not communicate their budgets to one another. I think we had an inkling, but when we laid it all out on paper we were taken aback at the gaps.
We had no idea what schools were or were not providing to students. We also considered the fact that we have two specials needs schools, Park School and Rice Center--money aside-- are by definition higher needs schools and require more resources to serve their kids.
Once we understood, we were motivated to make a change. I can’t stand the fact that kids are getting to the high school together but arriving on unequal footing. And when they meet new peers, they will figure out that their schools had more or less than others, and what message does that send to all of them? That we value some kids less than others? I am not OK with that, and I believe that most of Evanston is not ok with that. And now that we know the issue, we can all work to address it.
DE: When did the project launch, and why?
LR: This has been an ongoing conversation in D65 for decades. It’s been recognized for a long time, but a movement to address it never gained traction, that is until we were faced with the referendum two years ago, and growing concern that if it didn’t pass, the inequities would grow even wider.
Parent Biz Lindsay-Ryan and D65 board member Suni Kartha both had experiences that highlighted the inequities and made them feel compelled to attempt to address it. They teamed up and brought principal Kate Biggs Ellison on board. They felt that the combination of professional/volunteer experiences and their experiences as parents in differently resourced schools gave them some insight that could help examine the problem.
They approached PTA Council for help recruiting representatives from each D65 school. The committee began work in January 2017 and urgently worked towards a solution, and as of today we have raised over $18,000 through a Go Fund Me, seed donations from schools, and we're excited to see what more we can raise through Restaurant week September 24-28th.
Make sure to mention the PEP Project when you enjoy a meal at any (or all!) of the following restaurants:
• Boltwood • Candlelite Chicago • Dengeos Restaurant • Farmhouse Chicago • Firehouse Grill • Flat Top Grill • Found (closed Mondays) • Herm's Hot Dog Palace • La Principal (closed Mondays) • The Lucky Platter (open for breakfast & lunch only on Mondays; full menu the rest of the week) • Old Neighborhood Grill • Paninos Pizzeria (closed Mondays) • Peckish Pig (closed Mondays)
Eat for Equity, everyone!