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Faculty Viewpoint: Support Program for Local Families Grounded in Culturally Responsive Collaboration, Evaluation

by Communications Office / Nov 19, 2021

Rodney Hopson, PI evaluator of LIFT Champaign

LIFT Champaign is a new collaboration of the Champaign Unit 4 School District, City of Champaign, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Chancellor’s Office of Public Engagement, and the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) aimed at provided targeted, culturally responsive, holistic, and trauma-informed care for Black students and their families.

The Leading Individuals and Families to Transformation (LIFT) Champaign program (echoing what many consider to be the Black national anthem “Life Every Voice and Sing” written by James Weldon Johnson) celebrated its launch with a ribbon-cutting and open house event on November 4. However, the LIFT Champaign program has already been engaged with more than twenty Unit 4 students and families at their dedicated facility in the former Novak Academy building on N. State Street this fall.

LIFT focuses on African American youth in grades K-12, as well as their families, who are experiencing significant challenges academically and personally. Through intensive wraparound support and connections to both school-based and community resources, LIFT is designed to ensure students and families can succeed and thrive through severe circumstances in their scholastic or personal lives.

For more about how the College of Education’s Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment is partnered with LIFT Champaign we spoke with Rodney Hopson, professor of Educational Psychology, who is serving as principal investigator for evaluation of the program’s impact.

Can you explain how CREA became involved with this community project, and in what capacities?

RH: Dr. Wanda Ward in the campus’ Office of Public Engagement reached out to CREA initially, requesting our involvement. With Chancellor’s Office support, we were able to hire a lead evaluator, Dr. Anthony Sullers, Jr. who is our main point of contact with LIFT partners. I serve as PI on the project, and Cecilia Vaughn-Guy is a graduate student research assistant evaluator helping in the work of this effort.

CREA is the external evaluator on the project. Per the signed agreements between Unit 4, the City of Champaign, and the university, we are responsible for a rigorous evaluation process to help determine the quality and effectiveness of the LIFT Champaign program in reaching its goals: i)  to identify program weaknesses/limitations, ii) to provide suggestions for program improvements, and iii) to ensure sustainability and institutionalization of the program as an innovative model in the support of participating African American youths and their families.

Are you aware of any similar “wraparound” educational and wellness programs for families that exist in the U.S.?

RH: As part of our evaluation plan, we are scoping a literature and program review pertaining lessons learned from other wraparound efforts of reform, which should be interesting. Unit 4 LIFT program director Katina Wilcher and Rachel Joy from the City of Champaign have the most information about the development of the program’s design over the last two to three years.

What do you find most unique, interesting, or essential about the program’s potential to affect transformation for students and their families?

RH: The promise of the wraparound services being proposed and implemented by the Unit 4 School District and City of Champaign and is laudable and likely one of the most innovative reform efforts in the region. Working with dedicated and committed city and school district staff is amazing, and their ability to collaborate with proven leaders in the area on this common issue is commendable.

Why is CREA’s work with the LIFT Champaign program important?

RH: CREA is an international community of scholars/practitioners that exists to promote a culturally responsive stance in all forms of systematic inquiry including evaluation, assessment, policy analysis, applied research, and action research. Our work is applied at leading institutions and organizations around the world, through and with our affiliates, and via our deep and sustained partnerships. More significantly, CREA’s work tends not to be focused directly in the city or region and this project allows us to use our skillsets for important issues facing the livelihood and schooling futures of local students. I think CREA researchers are well-suited for this project based on existing and developing relationships with the Unit 4 school district and City, and this allows us to be more intentional in our work locally to build and support families and systems in need.

Learn more about the LIFT Champaign program and its launch event in this story from the News-Gazette