Discover more from FOIA Gras
Rebel Human: ETHS' $64,000 Conflict of Interest Wellness App
Rebel Humans®: "They do the hard thing when it's the right thing."
FOIAGRAS is a free newsletter run by Tom Hayden (FOIA GRAS LLC) that explores various topics in local Evanston Governance, especially around ETHS and School District 65 (Evanston/Skokie). I publish and share all my data and reports. Subscribing is free, so please subscribe or share.
For the last three years, Evanston Township High School (ETHS) has incorporated a mindfulness practice into their physical education classes. To that end, they use an application/website called Rebel Human. In fact, according to surveys they administered it has become a significant part of the ETHS physical education program. 52% of the teachers surveyed say they use the app “Every Day” and 56% said they use it from 5-10 minutes per day.1
Rebel Human for Schools describes itself as:
Rebel Human® for Schools is a web-based learning environment that allows educators to seamlessly integrate SEL into their 6-12 classrooms with minimal preparation and training. Rebel Human uses embodied neuroscience to teach students simple tools they can use to shift their physiology. emotional state, and mindset in real time. The Rebel Human® for Schools learning environment helps students, families, teachers, and staff co-create a culture of psychological safety and care through developing a shared vocabulary and skills in self-awareness, emotion regulation, impulse control, self-care and stress management, perspective taking, empathy, relationship building, respect for self and others, social engagement, and ethical responsibility.
It is a web-based platform that has video and audio content produced by various folks in the yoga, music, and mindfulness business, including sessions from Superintendent Marcus Campbell.
Does it work? I have no idea. You can read survey results obtained by FOIA request to get a sense of outcomes, which seem mixed. It is not exactly clear to me what the objective of integrating this into a physical education program is now that we are no longer doing remote education.
The cost for Rebel Human is somewhat significant: $64,000 over three years. You can view the invoices obtained via FOIA request. ETHS paid $30,000 in school year 2021-22 and a $17,000 annual fee after in years 2022-23 and 2023-24.
Rebel Human and the Arrington Family
Rebel Human is owned by Jenny Arrington and Tait Medina. Ms. Arrington is the daughter of Michael Arrington, a prominent ETHS donor. As recently as 2019, Mr. Arrington made a $330,000 donation to ETHS. According to a 2022 interview with the Evanstonian,
The words ‘Expect Victory’ are now displayed on a banner above the Michael B. Arrington Wellness and Performance Center, the construction of which was funded entirely by donations by Arrington and money he fundraised.
Evanston residents may be familiar with the Arrington family - the lagoon/duck pond by Lake Michigan is named after W. Russell Arrington2. He was a Republican member of the Illinois General Assembly and Senate from 1945-1972, including serving as the president of the Illinois Senate. He was an important figure and according to Mike Madigan, one of the founders of the modern Illinois legislature.
Rebel Human also prominently features content produced by current ETHS Superintendent Marcus Campbell.
I reached out to ETHS for comment on the story and got the following reply:
Dr. Campbell was not compensated for any videos or content made for Rebel Human. ETHS is aware of Jenny Arrington's background.
According to their website, other folks involved with Rebel Human’s advisory board include former District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren and former District 65 Oakton Principal Dr. Michael Allen.
I reached out to Rebel Human in September and received no reply.
Conflict of Interest & Equity
This shouldn’t have to be said but awarding a no-bid contract to the child of a major donor is a conflict of interest. Period. I have no evidence to suggest a quid-pro-quo but this certainly gives the impression of one. The District should know better.
ETHS leadership speaks a lot about their “Commitment to Equity,” I can think of very few things less equitable than awarding a no-bid contract to the daughter of a wealthy donor. In fact, the very concept of white women appropriating and monetizing east Asian meditation practices is downright axiomatic in pro-equity writing, there’s even a Wikipedia page about it! For a District that has spent potentially a million dollars on Beyond Diversity™ training - I would expect them to know this - yet there is no evidence to suggest they took bids or considered other meditation/mindfulness apps in line with 105 ILCS 5/10-20.21. 3
Perhaps this is because Dr. Campbell is himself, featured in the app.
To be clear, I have nothing against Ms. Arrington or Rebel Human, in fact, I understand she was associated with The Garage at Northwestern for some period of time. I was a mentor there from 2015-2020 and we may have overlapped, but we never met. I wish her business well, but doing business with ETHS is absolutely a conflict of interest.
This survey was administered in January 2022, so it is decidedly in the post-COVID era. These students are using Rebel Human in person.
According to this interview with Evanstonian, the lagoon construction was funded by the Arrington Foundation.
I’ve given up even ranting about the blatantly incorrect interpretation of this Illinois statute where essentially everyone claims the “(i) contracts for the services of individuals possessing a high degree of professional skill where the ability or fitness of the individual plays an important part;” exemption to avoid having to put anything out for bid anymore except the most common of contracts, such as security and food procurement.