Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #073. First published in the St. Cloud Times Aug. 27, 2013

Today begins my seventh year in the Times Writers Group. Nothing has been more heartening for my theme, “the renewal of human community,” than the establishment of St. Cloud Area Community Priorities, first in 2011 then again in 2013.

This collaboration between the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, Initiative Foundation and St. Cloud Times focuses energy and creativity for the benefit of everyone.

Community priorities retrieve an insight classically formulated by Alexis de Tocqueville more than a century and a half ago in “Democracy in America” — our democratic society is so constructed that “the maximum possible number of people have some concern with public affairs.”

I wrote about the priorities in April. They bear repeated revisits. There’s no excuse for thinking that public affairs are “someone else’s concern” and there’s nothing you can do.

Group collaboration

This month, a week before the school year starts, I highlight priority No. 2: “Support student success through a cradle-to-career approach for education and workforce development.”

A key player is Partner for Student Success (disclosure: I am a volunteer on one of the Partner teams), an initiative explicitly committed to coordinating programs already in place and encouraging many other persons and entities, including businesses, to get involved.

And just as important: Partner for Student Success is committed to the proposition that decisions about what to do should be driven by data, and the data should be accessible to all parties.

In 2012, Partner for Student Success helped to coordinate the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota and Discovery summer academy with the goal of improving student achievement by combining academic learning and fun.

Overall, 243 students participated.

This collaboration has been further enhanced by input from another charter partner, St. Cloud State University.

John Hoover, professor of special education, recently began an analysis of performance indicators from the summer academy participants, using student results from the 2011-12 and 2012-13 Measures of Academic Progress.

Test results

The public clamors for accountability, and properly so. Well, here it is: Hoover’s preliminary results point to more rapid gains on standardized tests by targeted-services students than the national sample.

Additionally, preliminary analyses suggest students may have lost less during the summer than did the national norming sample.

A perplexing challenge faced by educators is the difficulty students have catching up when they start far behind, so the demonstrated results of this different kind of summer school — gains more rapid than the national sample — are something to get excited about.

When the skills and experience of the Boys & Girls Clubs are put together with the skills and experience of the school district’s teachers, and everyone works together toward a common goal with mutually agreed-on measures, seemingly intractable problems can be overcome.

You can do something

What might this mean for you?

First, you can take heart. Something works!

Second, you can begin to see win-win situations all around you. Our life as a community is not a jumble of zero-sum contests.

Third, you can do something. Let’s say you’re part of a church group that believes working for the common good is part of your mission; or you have a business concerned about the future workforce; or you’re a citizen inspired by the priorities’ identification of “key ways to improve the region’s vitality.”

Be a part of Partner for Student Success, and help support priority No. 2 through working on two of its objectives: expanding strategies that address the educational achievement gap and increasing youth mentorships, internships, service learning and work-based learning experiences.

There are dozens of points of entry for individuals and groups to empower children and young people for cradle-to-career success.

Tocqueville saw that in this democracy we are all in it together, everything connected to everything else. The “maximum possible number of people” concerned with public affairs is everybody, starting with you and me.