Patrick Henry High community event a success

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Special day of career ed, entertainment engages students and adults

February 6 was Community Involvement Day at Patrick Henry Senior High School in North Minneapolis. Through the labor of substitute teacher Susan Breedlove and Achieve Minneapolis’s Yusuf Abdullah, the community was invited into the school. “Too often, the community and school get separated and don’t recognize each other’s resources,” said Breedlove. “Learning is better when it is more contextual,” she added.

This was Henry’s first attempt at the Community Involvement Day concept. It is a combination of a career day and a career fair, both of which Henry faculty and administration have tried before. “We put both ideas together,” said Abdullah.

A survey was circulated to students earlier in the school year where they specified vocational interests and career choices. Students were also invited to share hobbies and recreational activities. All this information from over 1,200 students was gathered in order to bring in community members who could offer their expertise on subject matter ranging from jobs to spoken word, and even volunteering. Students were also invited to participate in the planning process by making their own suggestions.

“We wanted to target what students wanted to learn about and be about,” said Abdullah.

Teachers weighed in based on what they knew of the individual students. Students were placed one by one, and most of them received at least two of their workshop choices. Some of the more popular options were culinary arts and a workshop entitled “So You Want to Act.” The surprise moderator of the acting workshop was a former Henry student who recently made it to Hollywood — Bee Vang plays the role of Thao Vang Lor in Clint Eastwood’s film Gran Torino.

Breedlove explained that the idea for Community Involvement Day was designed to be more than the customary career-day model. She said the relationships formed that day are meant to be long-lasting ones. Students are not just exposed to certain career options for one day, but relationships are formed between community resources and teachers as well.

Abdullah said they also listened to parents’ concerns. “Parents didn’t feel like Henry was a welcoming place. They didn’t feel part of Patrick Henry,” he said. “We also wanted to beef up the career fair model. It can be intimidating [for students], especially if they’re not prepared.”

“We called people individually. There were no agencies,” said Breedlove. Once the word got out, Breedlove and fellow planners began to receive calls for voluntary participation from community members, organizations and businesses.

“We brought people in from the North Side to have that connection,” said Abdullah. KKE Architects, Inc., who were contracted to build two schools in North Minneapolis and also constructed additions to the Sumner Library, were one of about 120 presenters. “They are uniquely tied to the community. Besides, they were looking for interns, so we provided them an opportunity to connect with students. [That’s] building relationships for the future,” said Breedlove.

In addition to all-day workshops and information sessions, there were two entertainment expos. “I did not see one face that was not elated or focused on what was happening,” said Breedlove. Performers included break dancers, hip hop artists, and even tumblers. Minneapolis native and American Idol finalist Paris Bennett was also part of the entertainment scene that day.

Patrick Henry ranks as one of the top high schools in Minnesota and actually one of the top 200 in the country. Breedlove suggests Community Involvement Day exemplifies why the school is an educational leader.

“I’m not sure that other schools provide a research-based experience like this. We actually talked about what the kids wanted…to sit down and spend time on a topic doesn’t occur as much in other schools,” said Breedlove.

“The students are thirsty for knowledge. They cling to each other and want to be a part of something. Our job is to create the platform for them to excel, express themselves, and blossom,” said Abdullah about Henry’s success. He suggested that there are good teachers and administrators at Henry who want to get involved.

In one workshop, representatives from the StreetWorks Collaborative and The Bridge for Youth addressed students concerning preparation for the world of work and independence including securing adequate housing, transportation needs, and even hygiene. “We got to discover what’s around [us],” said one student.

In another workshop, two spoken word artists from Sai Werd Ink, B.U.G.S. (Better Under God’s Supervision) and Verse (Jessica Gabrielle) — otherwise known as the Poetic Assassins — coached students to write their own poetry. Quanisha Beavers and Desia Dantzler accepted the challenge and wrote about their lives, their feelings, and their hopes and dreams in the “I am” exercise. The Poetic Assassins also run youth workshops and residencies in collaboration with local organizations such as The Loft, Yo! The Movement and the Minnesota Spoken Word Association.

The evaluation results were threefold. “From the students’ perspective, they want to do this maybe two-to-four times a year, like in every quarter. The students were really on top of it — They loved the sessions,” said Abdullah. “I heard several teachers comment that it was the best day in their time at Henry, including one teacher who had been part of career day planning in the past. She was inspired to help do it again next year,” he added.

The results also showed that the presenters definitely want to come back. “It was a success — everyone had a good time,” said Abdullah.

Lauretta Dawolo Towns welcomes reader responses to ldawolo@yahoo.com.

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