Minnesota Alliance with Youth

Success Through Collaboration: AmeriCorps Promise Fellows and District 287

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) recently announced $205 million in grants to put AmeriCorps members on the ground to tackle critical challenges in communities across the U.S. Nationwide, CNCS funding will employ a total of 43,104
new AmeriCorps members, including 210 Minnesota Alliance With Youth Promise Fellows!

“Promise Fellows provide a powerful solution by serving in school districts and community-based organizations striving to meet the needs of youth,” says Sarah Dixon, President and CEO of Minnesota Alliance With Youth. “They make a lasting impact on both their host sites and the youth they serve, setting the groundwork for success in school, work, and life.”

District 287's Diploma On! team at the Urban League Parade.
District 287’s Diploma On! team at the Urban League Parade.

Promise Fellows work with youth in grades 6–10, increasing the capacity of schools and community- based organizations by connecting youth to caring adults, leading service-learning and civic engagement activities, and providing high quality academic support. Across the state, Promise Fellows create real change in their communities. Ben Suker is a prime example of an AmeriCorps member working to support youth struggling to graduate. Ben is a Promise Fellow at South Education Center Alternative (SECA), an Intermediate District 287 school in Richfield. District 287 is a consortium of 12 west metro school districts offering more than 120 programs and services designed to meet the unique learning needs of its students. Ben supports the work of District 287 in many ways, including working in partnership with the Diploma On! program. Ben receives referrals for students who have missed 15 consecutive days or more of school and have been dropped from the attendance roster. He connects with students on this list, re-engaging and re-enrolling them in school, and supporting them as they work to become high school graduates.

Ben points to the multitude of learning opportunities presented to him at District 287 as one of the highlights of his service. “District 287 prides itself on finding innovative solutions to problems that are especially prevalent among the student population attending any one of 287’s charter schools,” says Ben. “Being around so many like-minded individuals committed to improving the lives of their students has inspired me and cemented my interest in a career that ultimately allows me to make a positive difference in my community.”

In addition to programs such as Diploma On!, District 287 is debuting its A Better Way project in partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools. A Better Way provides culturally responsive, positive school climate training based on District 287’s successes working with youth with disabilities and other significant risk factors such as teen pregnancy, poverty, chemical and mental health needs, homelessness, or juvenile justice involvement. The project’s objectives are to improve school leader attitudes, skills, and behavior relative to school culture and disciplinary practices. Rather than focus on what to “do to” disruptive students, A Better Way asks adults to focus on what to “do with and for” them. “If kids don’t know how to read, we teach them. If kids don’t know how to do math, we teach them. If kids don’t know how to behave, we typically punish them,” says Sandy Lewandowski, Superintendent of District 287. A Better Way will enable school leaders to make the adaptive changes needed to increase graduation rates, end the disproportionality of discipline, and establish a positive and proactive culture.

A Better Way is at the cutting edge of the kind of change needed to ensure that all Minnesota youth can graduate high school and be prepared for success in life. AmeriCorps Promise Fellows are another powerful tool that allows communities to help youth realize their full potential. Working hand-in-hand with youth organizations and schools, Promise Fellows build strong and sustainable bridges and supports with and for youth. Ben Suker’s work at District 287 relies on these strong relationships. “Being in a school setting presents challenges nearly every day,” Ben says. “The poise and resilience that staff has demonstrated this year has been phenomenal.”

As the summer winds down and the 2014–15 school year enters the horizon, Minnesota Alliance With Youth will once again inspire, train, and educate the next round of changemakers for Minnesota’s youth. Drawing upon the experiences of individuals like Ben and the expertise of organizations like District 287, the Alliance will equip 210 AmeriCorps Promise Fellows with the skills, energy, and knowledge needed to help all youth in Minnesota to overcome even the most tremendous of obstacles.