Cradle to Career updates joint board on kindergarten readiness


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Anya Tanyavutti speaks at a District 65 school board meeting. Tanyavutti highlighted the disparities between students of color and white students and the importance of early-childhood supports.

Maddy Daum, Assistant City Editor

Cradle to Career — a collaborative partnership of organizations in Evanston that work to improve programs for children before kindergarten — set the “bold goal” to increase kindergarten readiness in Evanston by 85 percent by 2025.

Sheila Merry, executive director of Evanston Cradle to Career, updated board members at the joint Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Evanston Township High School/District 202 meeting on Monday about the progress Cradle to Career made to help utilize Evanston’s early childhood programs.

Merry said Cradle to Career works to improve equity in three main facets: supporting parents — the first teachers for a child, improving access to supportive services and creating connections to early childhood programs. Merry said there is no “silver bullet” to improving metrics and that there is still a long way to go to decrease racial opportunity gaps.

The organization’s “advocates for action,” community members who work directly with residents, determined that a parent activity guide would help achieve their literacy goals, Merry said, adding that so far, they have distributed 3,500 guides.

“One of the clear messages we got was that parents don’t know what kindergarten readiness is,” Merry said. “This guide really gives you a clear message as to what kindergarten readiness is and some very practical activities parents can do with kids to be able to get their child ready.”

The Talk, Read, Sing Initiative is another effort to get parents involved in their child’s early life. Merry said this year they are going to track parents exposure to resources like Talk, Read, Sing and the parent activity guide during kindergarten registration.

The organization is also looking to implement baby visits through an evidence-based model called family connects, Merry said. A trained provider would visit a home three weeks after a baby is born to determine how the family is doing and if they need additional services.

Another resource is trauma-informed counseling for families through Cradle to Career’s partnership with 10 early childhood programs, Merry said. Therapists will see a family 48 hours after they request access.

“This has been critical for early childhood programs feeling that they can meet the needs of the children they are seeing,” Merry said.

Merry said that Childcare Network of Evanston — a nonprofit focused on support for parents — is the “the main driver” of the trauma counseling and they have hired three therapists of color.

Anya Tanyavutti, District 65 board vice president, said she appreciates the focus on trauma early in life. She highlighted the disparities in Illinois of survival rate after birth in race and ethnicity. Tanyavutti said these traumas are often the “result of marginalization,” which is why equity work is so important.

“Often times in our system we are looking at the disparities but not calling the disparities what they are which are the effects of racism, patriarchy and economic exclusion,” Tanyavutti said.

District 202 board member Jude Laude said students who experience factors like trauma or difficulty in childhood outside of school are behind once they reach the education system. He said social services are necessary because children coming into kindergarten with adverse childhood experiences will make it more challenging for them to learn.

Laude said Cradle to Career’s “ambitious” goal of 85 percent is necessary, but right now they are only at “sixty-odd percent.”

“That is something that we as a community … need to provide support to families that are experiencing crisis so that we can help normalize these families so that the likelihood of having better outcomes is increased,” Laude said.

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