Minneapolis students, parents: ‘The Choice is Yours’


Increasing awareness of ” The Choice is Yours” program helps parents & students alike.

The Choice Is Yours is a program that gives low-income Minneapolis families more options to attend suburban schools. The districts participating in The Choice Is Yours are part of the West Metro Education Program (WMEP). All Minneapolis students who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunch may participate in the program.

Earlier this year, we met Program Administrator, Bondo Nyembwe, and Marquita Wagner, Outreach Coordinator, from the Division of School Choice Programs & Services under the Minnesota Department Education, to conduct an interview about the program. As a follow up of that earlier encounter, we went back for an update and sat down with Bondo Nyembwe, to inquire about the following.

ANJ : Please, tell us how the program is going so far? I mean update us since we last discussed the program in January.

Nyembwe: The program is going well. The goal was to enroll 2000. Today student enrollment has reached around 1977 and that is good. It is a positive sign that our promotion and awareness campaign is working.

ANJ : That seems impressive, almost, right on your target. What is your challenge now?

Nyembwe: The challenge now is retention. We want also to increase promoting and enhancing the program, making WMEP a friendlier customer service area. We want to provide students with a lot of support. By this I mean assisting in academics and socials. They will be ready to compete in all levels. We also want to revamp our orientation process. Finally, we will increase the parent’s awareness of how they can better utilize the information centers we have. These centers are there to assist families to make an informed choice for their children.

ANJ: I thought, when I asked the challenge question, your answer would include the funding part of this program, I think that is OK now? I mean, how are you getting help or funding for the program?

Nyembwe: Yes, funding is important for any program. This year, our funding begins from July 2007 to 2008 and it will probably continue until 2013.

ANJ: You mention earlier that there is some support for the students, in what way?

Nyembwe: Yes, we support in a variety of ways including free tutorials in both Minneapolis and suburban schools, plus we provide free transportation.

The program, Nyembwe says, divided the Minneapolis district into two sections; the north side and the south side by using I-394 as the approximate dividing line. Those students living in the north section of the city can attend the following districts: Columbia Heights , Hopkins, Robbinsdale, St. Anthony/New Brighton, St. Louis Parkand Wayzata. Students living in the south section can attend the following districts Edina , Richfield, St. Louis Park and Eden Prairie.

Any family, he said, who wants to take part in The Choice Is Yours program, is required to complete a state open-enrollment form. These forms are available at all WMEP districts or by calling the Minnesota Department of Education at 1-877-766-5485.

The Choice is Yours program has grown significantly over the years, from under 600 students in 2001-2002 school year to nearly 2000 students who are enrolled now. The West Metro Education Program (WMEP) is a voluntary consortium of 11 urban and suburban school districts in the Minneapolis metropolitan area that was formed in 1989 to cooperatively address integration issues in the west metro area.