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Furthering Kids' and Parents' Success at Same Time

Aspen funds Northwestern, Evanston Community Foundation two-generation education project

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A $100,000 grant from Ascend at the Aspen Institute will jump-start an innovative two-generation education initiative for low-income parents and their young children. It draws upon award-winning research from Northwestern University and also from the Evanston Community Foundation’s ongoing kindergarten-to-workforce readiness initiative, “Every Child Ready for Kindergarten, Every Youth Ready for Work.”

Designed to help members of low-income Evanston families further their education and careers, the two-generation pilot program will provide early childhood education for children as well as education, training and employment opportunities for their parents.

“We are seeking to develop a pilot program in Evanston because of its engaged community and its socioeconomic, racial and ethnic diversity,” said Northwestern’s Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, newly appointed Northwestern associate provost for faculty and the Frances Willard Professor of Human Development and Social Policy. 

“The Evanston Community Foundation [ECF] is an ideal partner because of its longstanding history of drawing upon Evanston’s multitude of voices to develop a vision of social justice,” she said. “Because of its longstanding work in forging collaborations aimed at kindergarten readiness within Evanston’s early childhood sector, ECF is an especially good fit because it framed its initiative to align with the findings of such studies as the Perry Preschool Project and the research of Nobel laureate and economist James Heckman.”

A developmental psychologist for Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR) and professor in the School of Education and Social Policy, Chase-Lansdale is an inaugural fellow of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, a leadership program and a hub for breakthrough ideas and collaborations that move children and their parents toward educational success and economic security. Twenty leaders from across the country from diverse sectors -- research, education, policy, service, business, media and philanthropy -- were selected as Ascend Fellows.

ECF will provide leadership and program implementation support for the Evanston pilot project, and Northwestern will direct an accompanying research study, led by Chase-Lansdale and Teresa Eckrich Sommer, IPR senior research scientist. After a year, both ECF and Northwestern will develop a funding and partnership strategy and a plan for potential expansion in the future. 

“This partnership is a win-win for Northwestern and for Evanston,” said Eugene S. Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance at Northwestern. “We are always pleased when our exceptional teaching and research resources align with community needs, and we are especially honored to partner with an Evanston organization that has been making a difference in the community for many years.”

One of the nation’s leading researchers, Chase-Lansdale specializes in multidisciplinary research on social issues and how they affect families and the development of children, youth and adults. 

For three years, Chase-Lansdale, Sommer and colleagues have been assessing CareerAdvance®, a dual-generation program developed and run by the Community Action Project of Tulsa County, Okla.  

A health care workforce development program, CareerAdvance® is designed for low-income parents of young children. The program provides career coaches, financial incentives, peer group meetings and community college coursework to prepare parents for high-demand jobs in the health care sector To date, CareerAdvance® is the only fully operating workforce development program with the goal of improving outcomes simultaneously for parents and children.

“There is an important challenge in building political will to support innovative yet untested ideas while developing research to examine program impacts in a variety of community settings,” Chase-Lansdale said. 

“Evanston is one of the first communities to embark upon a two-generation solution and will become a leader in the forthcoming Aspen Institute national network of similar initiatives,” she said.

The Evanston pilot project will draw upon the best practices of existing initiatives, including CareerAdvance® and ECF’s Communityworks program “Every Child,” which is rooted in home visiting for parents with children up to the age of 3 and features a learning community of partner agencies and schools.

“Our ‘Every Child Ready’ initiative has extended the work of home visiting and family support that our community partners have been doing to more families,” said Sara Schastok, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation. “Our project recognizes the connection between children’s earliest years and their educational and career successes later in life. So the dual education approach that addresses the educational needs of children and their parents is a great fit with our project.”  

“Ascend at the Aspen Institute is establishing a national network of communities and states that are promoting a two-generation approach to expand educational and economic opportunities for low-income children and their parents,” said Anne Mosle, vice president of the Aspen Institute and executive director of Ascend.

“Ascend sees great potential for better outcomes for Illinois families with leading-class partners such as Northwestern University and the Evanston Community Foundation,” she said. “We hope this investment will inspire others in Evanston to join the effort to build and ensure an intergenerational cycle of opportunity for all families.”