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Focusing on amazing kids and families
by Eric Oines Are there parents and educators who don't care whether their kids get the best possible education? Of course there are, and there always have been. The trouble is, we focus on what doesn't work in the macro, or the bad apples that make things hard for the whole block, and don't see the pockets of amazing kids, families and citizens who, instead of be-moaning the present, focus on the future. Right on Franklin Ave, the co-founder of the University of Mogadishu and a young engineering grad from the U of MN are helping 120 African immigrant youth, 3 hours a day, up to 6 days a week, stay in school, embrace their heritage and make the most of coming to America. They have licensed teachers and an all-African college student volunteer corps leading by example. The parents, many of whom cannot read or write, because there were no schools in the refugee camps, and living on refugee benefits, are paying the rent on their space so they can do it. They ran a successful summer school this previous summer and will be opening an alternative HS for African teens next fall. A little way down Franklin, formerly homeless families are investing in their children's education and the hope for a better life. Their in-house programming includes educational opportunities for every member of the family, organized by parents and staff, including homework help for teens, one-to-one tutoring for about half the kids in the building and safe after school space for younger kids and toddlers. Around the corner on Chicago, at Hope Academy, children are being given one of the best educations in the city by teachers who make quite a bit less than most and with the strong support of parents. Banyan House, in East Phillips provides scholarships, one to one support and rigorous expectations in the poorest part of south Minneapolis, all while fighting off the crack dealers and hookers and re-claiming their block, one house at a time. In my neighborhood of north Minneapolis, Jenny Lind school consistently performs in the top quartile in Minneapolis, with the most ethnically and economically diverse student body in that rank. Their GEMS team (Girls Engaged in Math and Science) came in second only to Seward Montessori in the NASA sponsored city-wide Lego Robotics team competition last year. Step-Up, the city's summer youth employment program, places teens in professional work situations so they can see and experience the benefits of finishing school and going to college. MCTC and Metro State have an amazing Urban Teachers Program, which brings in poorer kids of color, who might not otherwise have gone to college, to become professional pre-school, elementary, and HS teachers - leaders who look like the kids they teach and can relate to their shared experiences. They also provide college recruiting seminars all over the city for adults who didn't have a chance to go to college when they were younger. Loring Nicollet-Bethlehem Community Centers, in Stevens and Whittier, run two successful alternative high schools, one focused on peace and justice, one on workforce readiness, and a highly sought after pre-school, as well as four day a week drop in tutoring with licensed teachers AND summer academic camps. In Richfield, just over the Minneapolis border, Partnership Academy Charter School, which has almost 90% Spanish speaking families, has made their state test scores two years running, has a 98% parent/teacher conference rate, 97% attendance, 140 volunteers a week, over half the kids in in-school and after school enrichment, and has the city government helping them find a site for an expanded K-8 campus with affordable housing and a community center on-site. There are extremely dedicated communities of parents, kids and educators everywhere you look in Minneapolis. Minneapolis has suffered severe cuts to after school and out of school programs since the Pawlenty administration came into office. Property tax "reform" under the Ventura and Pawlenty administration has made it extremely difficult for districts to adapt and grow. Despite that, there are a great many parents and educators who hold children and youth to high expectations for their educations and their lives. Somehow, it's OK for us to expect a quality college education to cost a chunk of change, and to include strong mentors, cultural, athletic and artistic opportunities, as well as strong academics, but any schooling before that is just wasted money thrown at greedy teachers and uncaring parents. I don't buy it. Eric Oines lives in north Minneapolis and works at PPL (http://www.ppl-inc.org/), the sponsor of the Partnership Academy and owner of the CVI building, which has the programming for chronically homeless families.