Program aims to familiarize District 65 kids with community issues

By: The Daily Northwestern
Published: May 15, 2014

An educational program that connected Evanston/Skokie School District 65 elementary school students with their surrounding Evanston community finished its pilot run in late April.

Called Project Researching Evanston and Community Horizons, the group was created by nonprofit Youth Organizations Umbrella in order to provide kids with a more extensive knowledge of Evanston and its resources. The first round of Project REACH, ended in April, consisted of 10 fourth- and fifth-graders from Oakton and Dawes elementary schools.

“Project REACH was really just a way for us to say, ‘We have some great kids. What can we teach them about their community?’” said Emily Fishman, the Oakton site coordinator for Y.O.U. “It was really, really a great opportunity and a great way for our kids to understand that there’s a lot more out there than just their small sector of the community.”

Fishman worked with Y.O.U.’s Dawes site coordinator Emily Roth to organize field trips to expose students to parts of Evanston with which they weren’t already familiar. These included tours of the historical centers, local banks and Northwestern.

The program focused on introducing kids to places beyond the proximity of their schools and personal neighborhoods, Fishman said.

“We found that a lot of our students were spending most of their time right around where their houses were,” she said. “And there was all these great resources in central Evanston and north Evanston that our kids didn’t really know anything about. We realized that this could really become a great way for them to learn about what problems are in their community and what they can do to change these problems.”

Each student took a location the group toured, as well as a corresponding issue, to center their his or her project on. The kids were able to grasp and understand the complex community problems that arose, Fishman said.

At visits to middle and high schools, the children picked up on the effect of bullying on students. Following a tour of the Evanston History Center, 225 Greenwood St., she said students discussed the divides in their community among race, religion and economic status.

“It was all their facts, their words,” Fishman said. “We picked them specifically because we knew that the students in this group had to be more mature kids who could handle something like this.”

Students created final presentations in April that demonstrated what they had learned about issues that face the Evanston community. Fishman said the participants expressed interest in going through the experience again, an affirmation that Project REACH was a success.

Oakton principal Churchill Daniels touted the program’s ability to get students involved in their community.

“It takes a village to raise our kids,” he said. “We need to expose them to a wealth of different opportunities for them to take advantage of … and to just bring light to other areas of our community. If we take care of Oakton, we can take care of Evanston.”

Both Daniels and Fishman said they think Project REACH will continue in the future. Fishman introduced the idea of expanding the program with the same participants into high school in order to allow for students to go into more depth about the topics they focused on.

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