The Minneapolis Foundation, back in April 2001, promised 364 third graders at seven St. Paul and four Minneapolis elementary schools that if they stayed enrolled in the districts and graduated from high school, they would be given either a $10,000 scholarship for a four-year college or university, or a $5,000 scholarship for a two-year school.
“What is this you guys are talking about?” Kathryn Davis recalls asking herself when she heard this as a third grader. “I’m only in elementary school.”
“We didn’t have a set of criteria for getting in [the program],” says Kathleen O’Donnell, who was hired as program director for Destination 2010 a couple of months after it began in the spring of 2001. “If you were a member of the third-grade class in one of these seven underperforming [St. Paul] schools in 2001, you were in. The one requirement for staying in Destination 2010 was that students had to stay continuously enrolled in a Minneapolis or St. Paul district public school.”
More than half of the St. Paul participants lived in three neighborhoods: Thomas-Dale, Payne-Phalen and Dayton’s Bluff. Nearly half of the Minneapolis participants lived in six neighborhoods: Hawthorne, Jordan, Near North, Central, Phillips and Powderhorn Park. Most came from predominately low-income families – 87 percent were students of color, 52 percent Black.
“Most people write off [these] kids – those aren’t the people the scholarship people are coming after,” says O’Donnell, who explained that funds eventually were raised from 140 sponsors, including a half-million-dollar grant from the Bush Foundation to support Destination 2010. It was “a joint venture with Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools, and it came from the foundation’s history of involvement with those two districts,” she noted.
Destination 2010’s overall goal wasn’t to be a one-size-fits-all approach, but instead to influence students to be successful. The students were “all over the map” academically, including 17 percent who received special education services according to O’Donnell.
“That’s when I started thinking about college,” Davis says. She is one of 150 city students who completed the program, about 40 percent of those initially involved. She graduated from St. Paul Harding High School this year and is heading to Inver Hills Community College to begin studying psychology.
“There were a lot of students at the beginning,” she recalls, adding that the nine-year journey wasn’t easy. She persevered nonetheless, partly because of her mother’s influence and “because if I didn’t have the scholarship, it would be harder for me to go to school.”
What happened, however, to the 214 others – 60 percent of the original group – who didn’t finish the program and won’t be eligible for any scholarship aid?
“We did not have a set of ‘you must do this to stay in,'” admits O’Donnell. “We don’t have a lot of detailed information because the majority of people leave during the summer.
“Some of the reasons we know [for students not completing the program]: We had students who left because their families had to move to the suburbs, or may have moved back to Chicago, or in some cases had to move to another state to follow work. Some were school choice issues – some students’ families chose different schools in the best interest of the child.
“Some kids left and came back, but they couldn’t be in the initiative because of [the requirement of] continuous enrollment,” O’Donnell explains. “We offered in helping them find some scholarship [money].”
Destination 2010 also sponsored various activities for the students and paid for summer enrichment activities such as math and science camps, leadership seminars and internships. “The activities were not mandatory, but they were scholarship-type things” such as test preparation and financial aid classes, said Davis, who also served as a member of the youth advisory board. “With it, I started doing volunteer work, and I met a lot more people that way. I really like it,” she says.
Community members were hired as “liaisons” who worked with students individually and in groups. “They were the link to the kids and did home visits and connected with them,” says O’Donnell. “They were our eyes and ears to help us do what was needed to be done for the students.”
“When I became involved, the kids were [high school] juniors,” says Jason Daisy, who was one of 16 Destination 2010 liaisons for almost two years. “I had about seven kids. I would take [them] to Timberwolves games or meet them at their schools to work on their six-year plans they had to complete. Or go over their report cards and their grades.”
O’Donnell says, “I made a commitment to have people of color. The person who is a liaison had to resonate with the kids…belonging to the same cultural group. Resonating in some cases is more about the gender, and in some cases it’s more about getting the poverty thing.”
She points out that a series of reports evaluating various aspects of the program will be completed and released in the coming months, and a final report is expected to be completed sometime next year. Among her recommendations are getting parents involved early in the process and “having a better plan for ‘real-time’ data on kids. I think we could do a lot better in coming up with systems for sharing information…in a timely manner.”
Assessing Destination 2010’s overall impact, O’Donnell says, “When people ask me, ‘Did you really make a difference? Did we see an increase in test scores with our kids from third grade to now?’ I would say no.”
“But if we look at participating students and their engagement levels with us, and look at whether we made a difference with kids that without us might have done worse, I think we are going to see some gains. I also think we are going to see a higher post-secondary participation rate in these kids.”
As a result, O’Donnell is happy to report that, of the 150 students completing the program, 61 percent plan to enroll or are enrolled in a college somewhere in Minnesota, and eight percent plan to attend school out of state; 41 percent will attend four-year schools, while 21 percent plan to go to a two-year institution.
There are still 30 percent of the 150 who remain undecided, but the scholarships are available until December 2011, adds O’Donnell. “And some of them didn’t graduate on time – 20 percent weren’t scheduled to graduate this last June,” she points out. “They had to either take additional credits [or] take the grad test again.”
Although Davis will be attending Inver Hills this fall, she says, “I am going to transfer either next year or the year after that to Augsburg.” She plans to seek a double major in psychology and visual arts, such as photography. The Destination 2010 scholarship is one of three scholarships she has earned to pay for her college education, and she hopes to work as well.
“The majority of those students told us that Destination 2010 had influenced them in terms of their choice to actually go on to college,” claims O’Donnell. “They said it helped with things like motivation. Both they and their parents have been able to say that we have had an impact on reducing the financial barrier to go to school.”
“It’s one of the best programs I’ve been in,” says Davis. “One of my best friends I met in the Destination 2010 program, and I’ve been best friends with her ever since.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.