D65 Student Assignment Project discusses magnet programs, African-Centered Curriculum


Illustration by Delaney Nelson, Photo courtesy of Jamilla Pitts

Two students in an ACC classroom at Oakton Elementary School. The magnet program aims to immerse students in African history and culture in their studies, and the D65 SAP committee is discussing expanding such programs in the future to combat racial inequities in the district.

Lily Carey, Reporter

On Saturday, Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s Student Assignment Project Committee discussed expanding magnet programs like the African-Centered Curriculum, which serves students in grades K-5 at Oakton Elementary School.

The committee, which is composed of teachers and parents in the district, aims to explore ways to combat racial inequities in the district. They will hold virtual sessions Wednesday and Saturday to discuss neighborhood schools and magnet programs. 

The curriculum was established in 2006 by a committee of parents and administrators who wanted to create a magnet program to address the performance gap between children of color and white children, according to Jamilla Pitts, director of the ACC and director of professional learning for D65. 

The program launched for kindergarten students and grew to include K-5 students at the school. It now has one class of 20 to 25 students in each grade. 

“We are really looking at how to build the sense of individual responsibility for making a collective community stronger,” Pitts said. “We’re still learning how to do that, because that’s a very different ideological position than the schooling system in the United States.”

Several years ago, Evanston parent Candice Shakur enrolled two of her children in Oakton Elementary School’s ACC program. 

After a day of school in the ACC, Shakur remembers her daughter coming home and telling her about a teacher-led conversation in class that day about Blackness and what it means to be Black.

“As a Black child in a predominantly white classroom, my understanding of myself was always filtered through a white lens,” Shakur said. “That my daughter had that conversation in her class was awesome. You have a teacher who is even willing to bring up that question in a group of kids.”

The curriculum was designed almost entirely by Oakton teachers who researched African-centered teaching methods.

Evanston parent Liz Rolewicz has two children enrolled in the ACC program and handles communications for the Oakton PTA. She said she has noticed the impact of the program on both her children in providing a unique perspective to their learning experience.

“The kids are really kind of immersed, no matter what subject they’re learning, in the lens of the African diaspora,” Rolewicz said.

With the ACC set as a topic for discussion at future SAP meetings, Shakur and Rolewicz said a potential expansion of the ACC program is an exciting prospect given the education and the community it has given them and their children and families. Rolewicz, in particular, said she would like to see every child have access to ACC. 

“In most classrooms, because we’re all brought up in this white society, we don’t default to blackness, and I want my kids to know that that’s possible,” Shakur said. “You’re not always the afterthought in the classroom — you can be the center.”

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