ETHS Student Advocates tackles educational inequities in partnership with Cradle to Career


Illustration by Fiona Yang

As part of the Student Advocate program, high school students work with Evanston Cradle to Career to address inequities in education.

Yiming Fu, Assistant City Editor

As a then-freshman looking to get involved in social justice and community work, Evanston Township High School senior Anna Grant-Bolton joined ETHS Emerge. 

The program allowed her to participate in communication, leadership and intersectionality workshops before working with a group of peers to tackle a specific issue in the community. After deciding what to focus on, the group of students then gets paired with an Evanston organization working toward the same goal. 

In an effort to address educational inequities in Evanston, Bolton, along with ETHS seniors Meena Sharma and Ana Sweeney, were paired with Cradle to Career Engagement Director Kimberly Holmes-Ross to start the Student Advocates program. 

Since summer 2019, the Student Advocates have engaged with the community by participating in reading circles with younger kids and the push for a STEM school in the 5th Ward. They have also helped create and distribute pamphlets with resources for low-income families who don’t have access to preschools on how to prepare their children for kindergarten. 

“Anywhere kids were that summer, the Student Advocate group was,” Holmes-Ross said.

Most recently, the Student Advocates hosted a town hall for Evanston/Skokie School District 65 school board candidates during the municipal election season. Sharma said the event was important because school board members have the ability to make decisions that will impact current students and future students, like the adoption of equity weeks and inclusive curricula.  

Sharma said while as a young person it was intimidating to ask adults questions, the group made sure to ask hard-hitting questions that would produce substantive answers from the candidates. 

“It was just kind of getting straight to the point of, ‘Alright, what are you going to do in terms of racial injustice in education?’” Sharma said. 

Through ETHS Emerge, Sharma said she learned about asset-based community development, which she has carried with her into her work with Cradle to Career. She described asset-based community development as leveraging already-existing community efforts and using that to continue to uplift the people within that community.

Grant-Bolton said through working with Holmes-Ross, she learned about the importance of decentering herself in her activism. She added that this mentality is important because it allows activists to learn from the community and work with people already on the ground, and it is also more effective. 

“If you’re trying to lead and help people and create all this change by yourself, then you’re not really acting in solidarity with folks,” Grant-Bolton said. “Instead, you’re trying to do this for yourself and for your own idea of what helping people looks like.”

Last fall, after hearing students felt disconnected and dissatisfied with remote learning, the Student Advocates started a peer tutoring initiative that connected over 80 pairs of District 65 students with ETHS tutors. 

Grant-Bolton said the group wanted to facilitate community in a remote setting, an idea that emerged in response to their weekly quarantine series that brought community members to talk about remote learning. 

“I learned a lot about organization in that process,” Grant-Bolton said, “and what it means for us to let the community take the lead and then find ways to support their voices and what they articulated.” 

Holmes-Ross said the students are “amazing” and have immersed themselves in their work. Her job is mainly to guide and connect them with Evanston community members and organizations. 

She said she’s been most impressed with how the advocates have been quick to take action on community issues, rather than waiting for others to do the work. 

“They really put themselves into the work,” Holmes-Ross said. “A lot of times we talk in theory as adults, like ‘Oh what if we did this,’ but we’re in a moment in time where people can’t wait for the ‘What if?’” 

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