Listening and learning in St. Paul


Since November, young people and their parents, business leaders and employers, faith communities, educators and cultural communities have gathered to participate in listening sessions in St. Paul. By the beginning of February the Learning in Cities Project will have listened to over 200 community stakeholders in 30 listening sessions. Sessions have been held at places where people usually come together – Neighborhood House, Face to Face Academy, Laura Jeffrey Academy, the Aurora-St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, St. Paul Public Schools, the Midway Chamber of Commerce, the Jane Addams School for Democracy and at the Youth Leadership Initiative at Wilder, and others.

Included in the listening sessions were newer East African and Hmong and Spanish-speaking immigrants and refugees, along with long-time residents and students from area colleges. Follow-up one-to-one interviews are being conducted with stakeholders who participated.

The listening sessions mark the beginning of a partnership between the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College and St. Paul’s Learning in Cities. Funded by a $400,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Learning in Cities Project aims to expand the definition of youth success beyond the math and reading test scores mandated by No Child Left Behind. The project’s long-term goal is to create an organized system of after-school learning opportunities throughout the city that will allow young people to develop the skills they need to meet the expectations of 21st century workplaces and communities.

Learning in Cities plans to build on community partnerships already in place with St. Paul’s Second Shift Initiative, which provides learning activities for youth beyond the formal school day at parks and recreation centers, public libraries, and other public places.

Kari Denissen Cunnien, Coordinator of the Second Shift Initiative, said “The official way public policy defines youth success is success at math and reading. Kids need more than that.” She said they need to learn life skills that allow them to make good decisions and to learn creative problem-solving . She added, ” We need to hold ourselves accountable as a community.”

One of the new partnerships is taking shape with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT). SPFT will invite youth workers from the various organizations to attend their annual professional conference on March 6. Youth workers are being asked to include speakers and presenters from their organizations along with the teachers’ presentations.

Skold spoke of the value of teachers and youth workers from places like the public library connecting personally. He said, ” It doesn’t happen with just a brochure. You don’t send a kid to a place without knowing someone there.”

Prior to St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman taking office in 2006, the Center for Democracy and Citizenship played a major role in developing the neighborhood learning communities that worked with kids on the West Side of St. Paul. That group, along with St. Paul Parks and Recreation, was instrumental in bringing the circulator bus for after school activities to the West Side as well as the East Side.

Cunnien said that the Learning in Cities Project will “strengthen what all of us already do,” and will expand to include “any learning activity that’s happening when kids are not in school.” While the Learning in Cities Project focuses on the school age population, the long-term goal is to create a culture of life-long learning beginning at birth, according to Cunnien.

Over time, the project will take a place-based approach that will coordinate learning in every neighborhood in St. Paul, with an emphasis on the uniqueness of each place. Skold said conversations are taking place about how best to organize.

In addition to the Kellogg grant, St. Paul’s Learning in Cities Project is receiving technical assistance from the C. S. Mott Foundation as a demonstration city. Other demonstration cities include San Francisco, California, and Providence , Rhode Island.. St. Paul, along with eight other cities, is receiving technical assistance from the Mott Foundation’s A New Day for Learning network and from the National League of Cities. Stories from Learning in Cities will be documented through a partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

CORRECTION 2/5/2010 – “In addition to the Kellogg grant, St. Paul’s Learning in Cities Project is receiving technical assistance from the C. S. Mott Foundation