Last year, a group of Evanston parents who were concerned about the opportunity gap for Black students and students of color in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 schools formed "Next Steps," a planning committee to address the role parents and guardians can play in closing that gap and helping to promote an antiracist environment in Evanston's schools.
The group partnered with Nichols Middle School and Nichols' feeder school administration and staff and has since expanded to 16 of the 18 District 65 schools, including Chute Middle School and its feeder schools, Haven Middle School and its feeder schools, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School, Bessie Rhodes, and Park.
Led by co-chairs Heather Heuman Sweeney and Sarah Ojiambo Liddell, the group began to hold parent/guardian-education sessions based on the book "Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools."
In fact, the book's authors, John B. Diamond and Amanda Lewis, led several of last year's workshops. Though it never mentions it, the book is based on research the authors conducted at ETHS.
"Like so many of us in D65, Sarah, a fellow Nichols parent, and I worry that kids of different races have different experiences in D65 schools," says Sweeney. "There are many causes for this, and necessarily many points of intervention. So as parents, we chose to focus on how parents and guardians can influence change."
Liddell says she got involved because she felt the need to continue equity work beyond the elementary level.
"We're bringing parents from various D65 schools together in one space to discuss the racial disparities in our schools," Liddell says. Once the parents are educated, she explains, they can advocate for desperately needed changes in their schools and at the district level.
Last year, the committee's goal was to broaden participants' understanding of racism: how it affects children at school; and how, both on their own and through their children, they can begin to proactively and reactively contribute to an antiracist school and community. The series was enormously successful, and, says Sweeney, this year's series, based on Ibram X. Kendi's new book, "How to Be an Antiracist," provides a perfect "next step."
"Dr. Kendi’s book gives us the tools to examine the nuanced ways racism shows up and impacts students," Sweeney says.
The series is designed for participants to explore Dr. Kendi’s framework, and then take steps to apply it to their spheres of influence in order to create antiracist schools.
Meghan Shea, who is co-President of King Arts PTA, says she's excited to be engaged with the "Next Steps" program.
"As a white person, there is never enough education for me to building capacity for conversations within the white community about race, whiteness, and my part in white supremacy," she says. "I welcome any guideposts on how to be an effective antiracist advocate, and I'm looking forward to starting to address how to apply these learnings at King Arts."
Liddell says that one of the session last year that focused on opportunity hoarding drew more than 100 parents and guardians.
"My hope is to end opportunity hoarding, academic achievement gaps, micro-aggressions, racist language and racist behaviors in our schools. Then we can concentrate on truly building equitable classrooms and schools in Evanston."
The new season of "Next Steps" begins on Thursday, October 17 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Nichols Middle School.
Through three sessions--open to all D65 and Evanston community members--parents and guardians will explore the not-often considered racist ideas presented in Kendi's book, develop a new lens to examine their own ideas and behaviors, and consider what they model and teach our children. This new lens will also be applied to PTA, school, and district policies and practices.
****Dates and times for the new season of Next Steps*****
October 17, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30pm: Nichols Middle School
January 28, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30p.m: Haven Middle School
March 25, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30p.m.: Chute Middle School (note: new location).
You can read more about "Next Steps" here.