SESP, Evanston schools expand collaboration to connect students with extracurriculars


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Annenberg Hall, home of the School of Education and Social Policy. SESP is expanding its collaboration with District 65 using $6 million in National Science Foundation grants.

Avi Varghese, Reporter

Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy is expanding its reach into the Evanston community by partnering with Evanston/Skokie School District 65 to help students access extracurriculars and online programs they might not know about otherwise.

SESP and its Evanston partners identified a need for students — especially those in traditionally underserved groups — to connect with opportunities to build STEM and art skills, said Nichole Pinkard, the faculty director for SESP’s Office of Community Education Partnerships.

Pinkard said Evanston schools currently use EL3, a web portal that uses SESP-created software to connect students and families to after-school activities and online programs that fit their interests. EL3, which has previously been used in smaller, more targeted programs, will see more widespread implementation when District 65 provides middle school students with iPads for the 2019-2020 academic year, Pinkard said. With better access to devices, she added, students will be more likely to use EL3 to find extracurriculars and programs that interest them.

Using parent input and recommendations, the software allows the district to map out and better keep track of educational opportunities in a way that was previously impossible, Pinkard said.

“(We’re) trying to make visible what are all the out-of-school learning opportunities, and working closely with providers to make sure kids get into the right programs,” Pinkard said. She added that EL3 is helping to determine whether Evanston “provides the right programs in the right places for the right kids.”

OCEP received $6 million in National Science Foundation grants last fall, and will use some of that funding to contribute to three research projects that will work in conjunction with EL3: The Interests for All program, which will identify student interests that could be served by new programs and connect students with existing ones; the creation of a MetaMedia center, which will offer projects in coding, digitizing and visual design; and a project that will integrate softwares that combine coding concepts with music.

Pinkard also described a fourth research project that will use EL3 data to learn more about the intersection of gender, race and computer science.

The launch of the EL3 collaboration is one of multiple recent major partnerships with Evanston schools. In 2017, the Northwestern Evanston Education Research Alliance launched using $1 million in funding from the Lewis-Sebring Family and Spencer Foundations, said Julie Deardorff, SESP’s director of communications and outreach.

The strengthening of the partnership and the trust that comes with it is likely to lead to new opportunities for undergraduate and graduate SESP students, said SESP Dean David Figlio.

Although the collaborations don’t currently involve any student fieldwork, Figlio described an “aspirational” idea for community service collaborations with partners that would allow students to work with the community for academic credit or pay.

He also proposed the possibility of a quantitative studies or research methods course that would guide students through actual research in community settings rather than solely teaching them through a traditional, lecture-based format — a change students have been requesting for a long time, he said.

Figlio emphasized that future collaboration of any nature would only be effective if it occurred at the intersection of SESP’s and local schools’ needs.

“We don’t want proximity to Northwestern to be a penalty to them,” Figlio said.

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