ETHS group engages black parents, aims to close racial achievement gap

Sophia Bollag, Reporter

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A group of educators, administrators and parents at Evanston Township High School have worked together to form a network aimed at bridging the high school’s racial achievement gap.

Founded last spring, the ETHS Black Advocacy Network works to promote black student achievement by reaching out to parents.

“The main goal is for parents to have a voice,” math teacher Tenesha Williams said. “Who better understands kids than their parents, the people who raise them and love them? It’s really an opportunity to get their take on how and what their kids need in order to be successful at the high school.”

Williams said E-BAN is still working to create a strategy and decide on basic goals to bridge the achievement gap, which is a recurring problem. In October, The Daily reported that the average difference at ETHS between blacks and whites in ACT composite scores was the highest in at least five years.

So far, most of the organization’s efforts have been concentrated on discussion at its open monthly meetings about how to reach out to parents. Associate principal Marcus Campbell estimates that the network has approximately 50 people who regularly attend meetings and more than 100 who have attended at least once.

Campbell and Williams said one of the main issues the network wants to address is the attitude of black parents toward high school, which they said parents can sometimes project onto their students.

“There (have) been a lot of bad experience shared by black parents at the high schools that transfers over when they become parents of kids at the high school,” Williams said.

Because meetings are held on weekdays, students who attend usually sit in the back of the room and do their homework, but Campbell said a few have spoken up during discussions and voiced their opinions.

At recent meetings, the group has used “The Essential Conversation,” a book by Harvard University professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot about the role of black parents in education to facilitate discussion.

“We’re using that book to unpack a lot of feelings, a lot of emotions, a lot of passions around what is it that we really need to do,” Campbell said. “How can more black and Latino parents really be involved, how can they learn to advocate for their students the same way white parents do.”

In light of the April 9 school board election, Williams said the network is currently discussing ways to make the school board more reflective of the diverse composition of the ETHS student body.

ETHS history teacher Nicole Parker (Weinberg ’95) said she thinks promoting black achievement at the high school will benefit the broader community, including NU.

“It will only help the community in terms of what African American students are able to give back,” she said. “It will also help make Evanston a better place for the students who come from all over the world to study at Northwestern … What happens in Evanston does impact the student body there, so I think that’s important for all of us to consider.”

The Network’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday night at Family Focus-Evanston, 2010 Dewey Ave.