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ETHS, Northwestern partnership continues even as school leaders depart

Jorge Melendez/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston Township High School. The Northwestern/ETHS Partnership Office runs about 85 to 100 collaborations between the school and university each year, according to coordinator Kristen Perkins-LaFollette.

Every week, Northwestern and Evanston Township High School students sit and study side by side during School of Education and Social Policy 251: Community Based Research Methods. The class, which switches location this spring between NU and ETHS, is co-taught by staff from both schools.

“It’s really innovative,” said Kristen Perkins-LaFollette, the NU/ETHS partnership coordinator. “I feel like Northwestern students are learning every bit as much from ETHS as the ETHS folks — students and staff members — are learning from Northwestern.”

The class is one of many partnerships between ETHS and NU overseen by the NU/ETHS Partnership Office. Perkins-LaFollette said the office manages between about 85 and 100 partnership programs each year with the intent to facilitate mutually-beneficial relationships between the high school and university.

Following a 2012 event recognizing a successful collaboration that placed University graduate students in Evanston classrooms, Perkins-LaFollette said University President Morton Schapiro and District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon wanted to take the partnership further. Schapiro and Witherspoon, both of whom will depart their roles this year, led the creation of the partnership office.

“The mayor, the superintendent and the president talked about, ‘How do we grow this partnership in that way, intentionally looking for opportunities for that synergy and that mutual benefit?'” Perkins-LaFollette said.

Longstanding disputes over student housing and university taxes have strained the relationship between NU and the city. The NU/ETHS Partnership Office is tied to the University’s Good Neighbor initiative, which aims to improve the University’s relationships with Evanston.

While Perkins-LaFollette works for the University, her office — complete with a purple wall and Northwestern seal — is at ETHS.

“President Schapiro had a vision early on that he wanted to formalize partnerships between NU and the high school. And thanks to his efforts, it actually supports a partnership office,” Witherspoon said. “These two entities can magnify what we accomplished by working together.”

ETHS junior Caroline Klearman, a group facilitator in the student-run Emerge Leadership Program, said a group of four NU students, including three ETHS alumni, attend monthly meetings and brainstorm ideas for social justice initiatives.

“They’re really helpful. It’s just nice to have a different opinion,” Klearman said. “And it’s definitely easier to connect with them.”

The partnership has evolved over the past 10 years. At its inception, Perkins-LaFollette said the partnership focused heavily on science, technology, engineering and math, but it recentered its focus about four to five years into the program.

The office set four priorities: identity and social consciousness, college access and career preparation, diversity in STEM and inclusion of arts and design in science.

Among the programs aligned with the new priorities is Advancement Via Individual Determination. AVID is the Evanston chapter of a national college readiness program for first-generation ETHS students and students from underrepresented backgrounds.

“The way that the collaborative inquiry activity is set up by the AVID program, the idea is that the tutors are currently enrolled college students,” said Myles Leggette, the student supports program assistant. “That way, they can really give our high school students the most direct knowledge transfer in terms of what it’s like being a college student, what the expectations are.”

With retirement impending for Schapiro and Witherspoon, Perkins-LaFollette said she is excited to work with their successors: Rebecca Blank, NU’s next president, and Marcus Campbell, ETHS’ incoming superintendent.

Perkins-LaFollette said she has already worked closely with Campbell on partnership programs such as Black Men LEAD. Part of her job will include working with the new leaders and familiarizing them with her office, she said.

Perkins-LaFollette said she’s seen the relationship improve over the decade the partnership has been running.

“I’m really optimistic that … we’ll continue to come to the table together,” Perkins-LaFollette said. “(I’m optimistic) that we have the same goal in mind of having a vibrant, wonderful community here in Evanston that we’re all a part of.”

Olivia Alexander contributed reporting.

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

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