Youth Forum: On learning opportunities

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Anticipating, as moderator Dan Scoggins acknowledged during the program, that “summer is more interesting for crime,” the Second Precinct Advisory Council (2PAC) sponsored a youth forum on May 14 at the Salvation Army on Central Avenue.

One of the speakers, Jazmin Danielson, Youth Department Director of East Side Neighborhood Services (ESNS), asked that rather than saying things like “keep kids busy, they’ll stay out of trouble,” the thinking should shift to creating meaningful learning opportunities.

“We are strength-based, and see youth as valuable contributors to community now; their ideas are valuable,” Danielson said. Her agency program handles everything relating to out-of-school time programming, targeting “under-resourced, underserved, lower-income,” 350 youth per year ages 14-21 who have lots of risk factors.

Chad Collins of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board staff said, “We find out from them what they want to do,” such as open gym time. He echoed concerns Danielson expressed about staff turnover in their field and underfunding and underappreciation of professionals’ work with youth. “Non-formal education has to be as real” as classroom time, Danielson said.

Also on the panel, Lena Braziel of Hennepin County Juvenile Probation said she views her work as serving families and preventing reoffending. They would rather rehabilitate than lock people up.

Jon Peterson, vice principal at Edison High School, talked about various mentoring and tutoring programs where they see “the biggest bang for the buck.”

The speakers agreed that teen employment; jobs and internships are the “number one deterrent against gangs.” They talked about how they partner with businesses and business organizations to offer jobs and training in the soft skills youth need to get and keep jobs. STEP UP, an internship program that the City of Minneapolis coordinates, is the most prominent example.

Are there enough activities and places for kids during the summer? Collins said, “we believe there are adequate spaces for kids.” On the East Side there are “10 parks, there is a park within six blocks of any resident, with countless programs, day camps. There’s Lupient Water Park, we have Night Owls from 8-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights. We have fee waivers, sliding fees.” A parent shows a tax form in order to get the lowered or waived fees.

Danielson said she would love to see a teen center the kids could run for themselves. Collins said the Park Board recently opened the new Phillips Community Center and East Phillips Community Center in South Minneapolis. They could be models.

Peterson from Edison said he’s inspired by Myles Horton and the Highlander Folk School [active in the 1940s in Tennessee training labor organizers at the grassroots of a poor mountain area]. “We need to move young people to the forefront. Make a place they can voice concerns and learn how to bring youth issues forward, learn from each other. Adults can facilitate and support the youth.”

Peterson, who said that of 740 Edison students maybe only 150 live in Northeast, said there are disparities between the East Side and other neighborhoods, particularly North Minneapolis, where many of Edison’s students live. He said some students from North Minneapolis tell him “I can’t even walk outside in my neighborhood, Mr. Peterson,” with clique bangers hiding guns in the crotches of trees. “We have responsibility for the most disenfranchised, marginalized groups.”

The audience, while fewer than two dozen people, engaged with statements like State Representative Diane Loeffler’s, “How can we guarantee that every kid will have one thing to do? Who isn’t in the programs? We’re under-resourced, there’s no Y, no Boys and Girls Club…We do have a community that wants to support youth. We need an assessment.” Another asked about metrics, how programs were proving their effectiveness. (ESNS and the schools have objective measures from pre- and post testing, the parks are subjective—did it seem to go well, is it worth doing again?)

Do kids need parental permission to participate in programs? At ESNS, parents sign their kids up, pay registration fees and have to meet poverty and academic guidelines as well as live in the geographic area. At the parks, drop-in activities don’t need permission. “If they’re registering for sports, then parent permission is required,” Collins said, with field trips requiring separate permission. They try to provide an “Active Pass” that identifies the youth and has their parents’ signature.

The 2PAC group estimates there are 10,100 youth in the East Minneapolis area.