St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has education for all ages of youth at the top of his agenda. After just two years in office, Coleman and his staff have implemented a number of educational initiatives, with many more still in the testing phase, to help give a boost to area St. Paul neighborhoods.
Some of the programs relate to helping parents become more aware of high quality educational settings in the area. Other programs provide learning experiences for children during after-school hours, while some provide no-cost opportunities for teenagers to learn how to take the right steps to prepare for college and the workforce.
Second of a three-part series
In this special three-part series on youth in the community, we look at how both Minneapolis and St. Paul are taking measures to encourage young African Americans to succeed, and also how African Americans rank with other children across America on very important issues such as education, poverty and crime — all factors that contribute to the success and well-being of our kids and our neighborhoods.
Whatever the program, the mayor understands that the educational needs of children can’t be ignored. He has five full-time positions on his education staff dedicated to providing positive learning experiences for St. Paul youth.
“It’s amazing what a little extra mentoring or tutoring a day can do for the life of a young child,” said Mayor Coleman. “Even just 15 minutes a day can make a big difference.”
Vallay Varro is the educational director for the Office of the Mayor. She explains that one of the mayor’s initiatives, the Second Shift program, is an example of how kids can squeeze in a few extra hours of learning a day and not even realize it.
“We understand that you can’t just put kids in a gymnasium with a basketball for three hours and expect all good to come out of the experience,” said Varro. “We like to infuse learning with fun experiences. It creates a seamless approach.”
The Second Shift program takes place from three to six pm every school day. It’s the time of day when the bulk of juvenile crime occurs, when parents or relatives might not be home from work and kids realize they have a lot of time on their hands that they aren’t sure what to do with.
Second Shift includes a number of components, including a website (www.stpaul.gov/onestop) that details all activities and information going on around St. Paul and local neighborhoods to give kids and parents something to do during those late afternoon and early evening hours.
The City provides transportation to some neighborhood events through another component of Second Shift, via the Circulator Bus. The Circulator currently serves the East Side and West Side neighborhoods of St. Paul.
During weekdays when no school is in session, the City hosts “Second Shift No School Day Programs.” Through this program, children can visit an area recreation center for the day where there is an established curriculum taught by youth workers.
Addie Gilbertson, Nabira Johnson and Monique Williams are all fourth, fifth and 12th grade students respectively who all attend the Baker Rec Center after school. Monique has worked at the Rec Center for the past year and recently has become a mentor to the Rec Center’s youth program.
“We teach them things that they can use in their everyday life, like healthy food and nutrition,” said Williams. “For snacks one day we might prepare ‘ants on a log,’ which is a celery stick with peanut butter and raisins on it. Other days we might have a graham cracker with ricotta cheese.”
“We have learned our manners,” said Johnson. “Like how to say please, thank you, not to talk back, and how to be more respectful to other people.”
“I like coming here because I get to see friends,” said Gilbertson. “I wouldn’t get to see my friends if I was just staying at home.”
The City has found that its Second Shift program, particularly the Circulator Bus service, is worthy of expansion. This summer will mark the second year the Circulator has been running; during its existence, the bus has provided more than 10,000 rides to kids on the East and West Sides, proving that area neighborhoods are paying attention to what’s going through town.
St. Paul has recently partnered with the National League of Cities. This partnership will help St. Paul identify existing gaps in the Second Shift program and work to provide resources to correct any challenges that currently exist. Through the partnership, St. Paul’s Second Shift program will also serve as a model to other metropolitan cities that wish to emulate the program.
But the mayor’s homework doesn’t just focus on after-school programs. Coleman’s office is offering $13,000 in early childhood grants for families who meet eligibility requirements and live in the Frogtown and North End neighborhoods.
“We understand that a child undergoes enormous brain development in the early childhood years, and we want to be sure we can help these children receive quality care at an early age,” noted Varro.
Next week: Minneapolis’ new Juvenile Supervision Center
For more information and to apply for the early childhood grants, visit http://www.stpaul.gov/early scholar ship.
Felicia Shultz welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.