Minneapolis to drop-outs: "We Want You Back"
Compass talks with Ann DeGroot, Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board
We Want You Back is a coordinated grass-roots effort to identify and reach kids who have dropped out of high school and encourage them to re-enroll. It’s a great partnership among the Minneapolis Public Schools, the City of Minneapolis, and the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board to catch these kids, let them know they matter, and get them back in schools.
The campaign is a year-round effort, but the most visible activity just happened on September 10th, with our second-annual “We Want You Back Day of Action.” We don't have the final numbers yet but our goal was to have 100 kids re-enroll and we think we more than met that goal.
This is truly a community partnership and a grass-roots effort. This year, we employed young people from the Minneapolis Youth Congress to do general outreach – to go out and talk to their peers.
The kid part of it is really important. They go out and do general outreach on major streets. They go where the kids are hanging out. The idea that another young person says to you “I really want you to come back to school, this really matters to me” is very powerful.
In addition, we had Bernadeia Johnson, the superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools, out door-knocking with the president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, Lynn Nordgren. Last year the superintendent and Mayor Rybak door-knocked together. The city attorney came out. Also, Slug (of the hip-hop group "Atmosphere") did a public service announcement with the superintendent and Brother Ali (another hip-hop artist) did one with the mayor. So it is really a whole community effort and a big deal!
Why does this matter is really a central question. We need to have a vibrant, competitive community long into the future. It’s really very simple. We should care because we are not going to have a leading city in 10 or 20 years if we don’t have an educated constituency. Every child needs to have at least a high school diploma, or we won’t be able to compete globally. And that means all our kids, no exceptions.
Also, the biggest generation in history is aging. When I’m an old person, I want the person taking care of me to know what they’re doing. Do you? It’s really very difficult if they haven’t finished high school. We came into that legacy and we need to leave that legacy for future generations. That’s not just Minneapolis, it is Grand Rapids, Mankato, Moorhead, it’s every community.
Aside from the economic vitality issue, our kids (like anyone) need to feel useful, they need to feel like they can contribute. Dropping out of high school makes a lot of people feel like they can’t do anything. It’s not impossible, but it is really, really hard to regroup and rebound. People need to graduate so they can become proud and hopeful and successful members of our community.
Does it make a difference? Yes. Absolutely. If we get 100 kids back in school that is tremendous. Even if the numbers may not look like much, you don't know what the impact is over time.
The biggest surprise last year was we kept hearing adults asking, “Could I go back to school? I never finished.” Kids were asking if they could sign up their parents for Adult Basic Education. Of course the answer was yes. Our community benefits whenever anyone, child or adult, completes high school. This year, people from Adult Basic Education were on hand to answer questions and ready to sign up the adults too. This was a unanticipated success of the program.
We also have learned that many of the kids who have dropped out feel invisible. A number of the people we talked to said “I didn’t know anyone had even noticed I was not there.”
The idea that you are invisible, and you’re 16, that is really very heartbreaking. It also is not a recipe for a healthy, happy, contributing adult. So we know that letting these kids know that we care – all of us, the teachers, the Mayor, their idols and most of all their peers – makes a tremendous impact.
Well, the real end-goal is no dropouts. Even one dropout is too many, so all communities need to care about this. And any community can work to get kids back in school.
Some of the successful ingredients are getting buy-in from the school district. For us, this program was already being put in place by the district when the YCB was brought on board. We helped adapt it with the outreach and the day of action. So that’s another ingredient – work with what you have and do well already. A third thing is that the PR aspect is really important. Assemble as many high profile people as you can. Let the kids know we all care about their success. And fourth, people should know they really can make a difference. Our volunteers tell us consistently that they are so happy to participate in something where they can do something positive. Nobody wants kids to fail, but people can get overwhelmed when it comes to the schools.
The real end game is no dropouts. The ultimate goal is that kids don’t drop out to begin with. I always say, if we do this well, we’re working ourselves out of a job. And in this case, that would be a very good thing.