Personal Relationships Help Close the Achievement Gap

Article excerpt

Shanell McCoy, 19, and Paris Carruthers, 22, are emerging Twin Cities leaders who have been researching what youth actually think about their education system and an adult society that constantly worries about the achievement gap but too seldom listens carefully to those on the other side of the gap.

"The conversation gets complicated, but people are overthinking this,'' says McCoy. "I think it's as simple as communication, listening, and more and better personal relationships with caring adults. Too many decisions, about us, are made without us.''

"The school system is so rushed -- to teach something you will remember for a test and then forget -- that there's no time for relationships,'' adds Carruthers. She adds: "The people on the hill (her term for the educational and social establishment) keep saying it's a problem and sometimes only make it worse.''

Their insights come from facilitating meetings this summer with older teens and youth for the Generation Next initiative, a promising new comprehensive partnership focused on improving student success broadly across the Twin Cities, complementing efforts already under way in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

A collective action model

Generation Next is building a detailed cradle-to-career "road map'' by bringing together students and parents, as well as education, community, philanthropic, government and business leaders to identify and adopt successful programs that are proven to work. This collective action model, now being adopted in many metropolitan areas across the nation, as well as rural communities in Minnesota, activates a powerful network of people committed to reaching well- defined goals.

McCoy and Carruthers were involved in helping one of several "action networks" focused on Early Literacy and College and Career Readiness. With the help of professional facilitators, dozens of action network members in Minneapolis and St. Paul will establish charters and action plans focused on closing gaps in those key areas - in ways that have demonstrated their effectiveness.

"The action networks are where grassroots community members take ownership of identifying solutions for the achievement gap," says Frank Forsberg, an executive with Greater Twin Cities United Way who helped launch Generation Next and is currently serving as the group's executive director. "Their intimate knowledge of their communities will be a key to understanding how we can change the dynamic that currently keeps so many students from reaching their full potential."

McCoy and Carruthers are budding change agents at the same time they are trying to navigate a complex higher-ed system and a career launch for themselves. They both work part-time for Youthprise, a creative nonprofit that seeks to innovate and improve the quality of youth development outside the classroom.

Their savvy on the subject also comes from their real lives in the most diverse Twin Cities neighborhoods, urban and suburban. McCoy is from Brooklyn Park, a suburb with a high and growing percentage of minority students, and Carruthers has lived all over the Twin Cities, in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and both northern and southern suburbs. McCoy is interested in a marketing career and is a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College; Carruthers is pursuing accounting, and returning this fall to St. Paul College.

Learners thrive when they connect with others

The summary of youth input for Generation Next swirls around the word "personal relationships'' and a more holistic approach to student success and human development. …

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