Community Coalition Helps Kids Reach Their Full Potential in Red Wing, Minn.

Some people believe that if a task is worth doing, it’s worth measuring. While that philosophy may not apply to all youth development efforts, a Red Wing, Minn., coalition is successfully using data to help young people reach their full potential.

The coalition, Every Hand Joined (EHJ), is a community-based youth initiative and part of StriveTogether’s Cradle to Career Network. “This is about every single kid in the community of Red Wing,” says Charley Nelson, EHJ Executive Director.

Some 250 volunteers are involved in EHJ, representing schools, businesses, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, parents, and local government—all with the goal of improving young people’s lives.

EHJ has five goals for young people in Red Wing:

  • prepared for kindergarten—so children are not playing catch-up
  • youth enrichment—every child is connected to a caring adult outside of his or her family
  • academic success—every student has a successful academic career that leads him or her to graduate on time with his or her class (EHJ is starting with 8th grade math)
  • post-secondary education—every student enters some form of post-secondary education ready to graduate without remedial courses
  • hunger-free kids—every student has access to breakfast throughout the year

Measuring Youth Engagement

Each goal has a Collaborative Action Network that represents the different stakeholders in the community. Anne Jones, Vice President of the Jones Family Foundation and an EHJ Partner Table member, is an active part of the network related to the youth enrichment goal.

Jones says, “The challenge for this enrichment goal is to measure the noncognitive, or nonacademic, impact of the network. We needed to gather accurate data showing the level of engagement of our youth in enrichment activities outside of the classroom and to establish a baseline for building youths’ social-emotional behaviors and competencies.”

To measure young people’s engagement, EHJ implemented Search Institute’s Developmental Asset Profile (DAP) survey during the school years of 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. In 2013-2014, seven programs representing 150 youth participated. In 2014-2015, ten after-school programs participated in the network, representing 300 youth.

Each after-school program presented their results to the full network and shared their strategies for addressing areas needing improvement. The sharing was voluntary, Jones notes, and the network has a commitment to its participants that it will only share aggregate results to the community. No results for individual students were shared at the network level.

Genuine Efforts to Empower Youth

Jones explains, “Our network aggregated results showed that empowerment and positive identity were the most frequently flagged areas to improve upon.” Several programs shared these results with the young people to explore students’ thinking and to get their ideas on how to address these areas.

During these two school cycles, the results showed an increase in the number of youth in the “thriving” range from 12 percent to 31 percent. Furthermore, the number of youth in the “challenged” range dropped from 15 percent to 12 percent.

Jones says, “The significant improvement in results is attributed to three programs joining the network that engage a high number of youth in a program offering a strong mentoring component. In addition, two programs focused on at-risk youth were discontinued. Given the large swing in results, the network is committed to implement a survey at the school district level to have an accurate representation of all middle and high school students.”

In 2014-2015, EHJ participated in a pilot implementation of Search Institute’s new Youth and Program Strengths (YAPS) survey in the Red Wing after-school programs. The results were shared with program staff to develop strategies for improvement, and each program shared the results with the full network and discussed the continuous improvement opportunities.

“For example, in the Environmental Learning Center (ELC) program, the staff added a math component to the youth project of constructing outbuildings at a camp,” says Jones. “Students were also requested to journal their experiences in ELC programs. In some instances, these journal entries were shared among the ELC youth. The goal was to link ELC experiences to school success and offer empowering experiences for expression.”

Young People’s Perspectives Matter

Another exciting development for EHJ is the opportunity for the network to hear the voice of youth not currently engaged in some type of community after-school or extra-curricular school-based activity. Nelson says, “The school district athletic director invited a group of youth to join this network and help us better understand their reluctance to join current programs and their input on changes.”

Nelson goes on to say that network members believe the DAP offered opportunities for improving their programs. He says, “Our next step is to partner with the school district to implement the Perseverance Survey with the goal to benefit all 6th through 12th graders both at school and after-school.”

In the fall of 2015, Red Wing will implement Search Institute’s soon-to-be-released instrument, the Perseverance Survey, in the school district and alternative school grades 6th – 12th to approximately 1,460 students, according to Nelson. “The network believes it is important to reach as many students as possible in both the after-school and in classroom settings,” he explains.

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