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Models of Community Engagement in Rural and Greater Minnesota

Brainerd/Central Lakes Area: Bridges Career Academies and Workplace Connection

The origins of the Bridges Career Academies and Workplace Connection were in a federal-state school-to-work program that lost its funding due to budget cuts in the early 2000s. While the original program ended, local business leaders, school districts and foundations in the area have kept the effort going.

The organization helps students understand the local career options they have in industries that will need them. It employs a two-pronged approach: formalized Career Academies that place students in early post-secondary coursework and on track toward one of five career areas, and the Workplace Connection that uses a variety of creative outreach efforts to link students with the actual experience of the local workplaces. These academies reflect the region’s workforce needs, offering studies in Health Sciences & Nursing; Applied Engineering, Manufacturing & Technology; Business & Administration; Criminal Justice; and Information Technology.

The Bridges project puts on an annual Career Exploration Day, which provides students with an interactive experience showcasing the basics of more than 150 career and educational opportunities.

Grand Marais/Cook County: Cook County Higher Education

Concerned about their lack of higher education access and aware that the local economy would need a workforce with more post-secondary skills, civic and business leaders launched the nonprofit Cook County Higher Education (CCHE) more than a decade ago. At the CCHE building, dubbed the North Shore Campus, students can take locally offered courses onsite or can use the school’s technology access to take online courses from institutions around the world. CCHE provides resources for students that include mentors and expert advice on student aid, in addition to technology and computer access. In 2010, more than 700 residents participated in workshops and training programs, and 112 students were enrolled in degree programs. Since opening in 1997, the organization has helped more than 500 people complete certificates or degrees, and met with or otherwise served a total of 2,800 Cook County residents.

Itasca County: Itasca Area Student Success Alliance

In early 2010, a broad-based group of leaders and citizens from the public sector, private sector and nonprofit community was convened by the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative and Blandin Foundation to talk about how to provide opportunities for all students in the area. A core team of community members has continued to meet regularly as the Student Success Alliance. Team members cite a number of factors that stimulated their decision to come together, including poverty in the region, lagging achievement, and a recognition that “total community” efforts elsewhere in the nation were showing great promise. After learning of the Strive Partnership, a national network based on a total community model for student success developed in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, the Student Success Alliance set a course for developing its own version of Strive’s roadmap for student success. Members hope in future years that they will be able to produce a report card similar to Strive’s to measure improvement on indicators of student success.

Northfield: Northfield TORCH

Several years ago, Northfield recognized a problem with the achievement and attainment of its Latino students. The area did not have high enrollment numbers for minority students, but it was not doing well at educating those it did have in the schools, with a graduation rate of 36% for Latino students, in contrast with an overall graduation rate of more than 91%. In response, school and community leaders developed the TORCH (Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes) program. The graduation rate for Latino students has climbed to 90%, with 85% of recent graduates planning to enroll in college. The early success of the program led to it being expanded to serve the area’s growing low-income population as well. TORCH provides individualized services to students including one-on-one mentoring, homework help and tutoring, college visits, assistance with college applications and financial aid documents, ACT test preparation and after school study help.

Rochester: Integrated Science Education Outreach (InSciEd Out)

The Mayo Clinic, Winona State University, and the Rochester Public Schools partnered with other community members in a shared vision of achieving excellence in science education. As of 2011, three public schools have used the InSciEd Out program – Lincoln K-8 Choice School, Franklin Elementary School, and Kellogg Middle School. Other community partners include the Rochester Public Schools Foundation, which has provided grand funds to buy webcams for videoconferencing with Mayo scientists; private businesses which have donated aquariums and tanks for the schools’ ongoing inquiry based on studies of the zebra fish; and nonprofits and foundations like Education Minnesota, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and the National Science Teachers Association which have provided financial contributions.

Following a summer of teacher training at Mayo Clinic by the InSciEd Out program and then deployment of new curriculum and methods in the classroom during the subsequent school year, measures of student engagement and learning at the Lincoln K-8 Choice School indicated substantial improvement in student science proficiency. The share of 8th graders choosing an optional demanding science curriculum for their high school course increased from 40% to over 80%, and science fair participation for the middle school increased eight-fold over two years to more than 80%. More than half of the school’s 8th graders achieved “Exceeds Expectations” in state science standards.

St. Cloud: District 742 Student Success Campaign

In the last decade, the minority student population in the St. Cloud Area School District nearly tripled to about 28%; students in poverty grew from 25% to 49.5%; and English learners grew from 3% to 10.1% of the student population of about 9,600. A series of highly publicized incidents, some involving expressions of incendiary racist sentiment, have exacerbated tensions and even provoked accusations that the city’s essential character was racist. Meanwhile the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and white, more affluent students continued to grow.

In 2009, in response to these problems, a group of St. Cloud civic and school leaders sponsored a series of events focused on identifying and replicating the experiences and assets which support successful student achievement for students of color. The task force held community meetings and ultimately launched the Student Success Campaign. Three action teams have been organized – around campaign development, youth development, and outreach – that encompass the diverse communities of color in the region. Participation is growing steadily and now includes more than 75 representatives from local organizations. As the Campaign develops an infrastructure, organizers are considering the Strive model used in Cincinnati and the Promise Neighborhood model emerging in many urban areas.

Willmar: West Central Integration Collaborative

In the Kandiyohi County area, a ministerial association, business leaders, school officials and local leaders from nonprofits came together to come up with different strategies for integrating and harmonizing the community. Education became a centerpiece and spawned the West Central Integration Collaborative (WCIC).

The Latino graduation rate has averaged 71% from 2006-2009, compared to 15.5% in 1995, and it reached an all-time high in 2011 with 78%. The Willmar Public School District is showing increases in the completion of more rigorous courses in math and writing, improved reading comprehension in higher grades, and a greater percentage of students taking the demanding specialty courses in Mandarin Chinese.

WCIC works with eight School Success Coordinators who focus on keeping students in grades 7 through 12 in school. They connect students to tutoring and mentoring resources, help set up job shadowing opportunities and college visits, and link students to programs like Fast Forward and Upward Bound which help them explore college and career options. WCIC also works toward the goal of an inclusive and respectful environment for students and families in school communities. The WCIC advisory committee is composed of an integrated and representative group of community members which includes superintendents from four area school districts, a public health official, and representatives of the Latino, East African, Native American and elderly populations.

Worthington: Nobles County Integration Collaborative

The public school district in Worthington has seen its four-year graduation rate for Latino students climb from 27% in 1996 to 38% in 2000, and then to 47% in 2010. The six-year Latino graduation rate currently stands at 58%, eight points higher than the statewide rate. Community leaders agree that this is still not good enough since graduation rates and test scores for Latino students still lag far behind those for white students.

The Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC) is comprised of six southwestern Minnesota school districts and has a mission to promote student success and community acceptance of differences by providing opportunities for students, families and staff from diverse backgrounds to learn from and with one another. Accomplishing that mission is defined around a five-point agenda of cultural awareness, language learning, student achievement, parent involvement and professional development and training.

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