Food Insecurity Continues :: NYT Article

A recent New York Times article highlights the continued issue of food insecurity in public schools across the United States – it’s not only prevalent, but growing.  As of 2013, 51% of public school students qualified for free and reduced lunch which is up from 38% in 2000. As with anything there are several contributing factors and caveats, but these numbers point to the fact that schools are diverse and student needs are changing.

On a more positive note, the article shares some solutions and examples of work being done to meet the needs of lower income students:

  • Increase spending in government programs that fund lower-income schools
  • Model public school programming on schools with high success rates
  • Dinner and take-home food programs

The last example should sound familiar and also reaffirm that Backpack Buddies is a program providing food to children and families that need it.

For more information, you can read the article here.

TED Talk :: Every Kid Needs a Champion

I love a good TED Talk™. The beauty of having a spare 10 minutes, combined with mobile technology, is that I can learn something new while waiting for who-knows-what, during some evening downtime, or when anticipating a mix and mingle event where it’s helpful to have a discussion topic up my sleeve.

The Achievement Gap is a hot topic. When we talk, we can all agree that there is not one formula for success, but there are two constants: kids and teachers.

Rita Pierson, a teacher for 40 years, delivered a dynamic TED Talk™ that was a rousing call to educators to believe in their students and actually connect with them on a real, human, personal level.

Pierson addresses the impact that teachers can have on kids who have a champion and the impact of academic success, retention rates, self-image and self-confidence. The earlier that kids have a champion accelerates the educational achievement of all children, from early childhood through early career.

TED Talk: Every Kid Needs a Champion

In the words of Rita Pierson:

“Teaching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion? Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”

Championing kids goes far beyond teachers in the classroom. Aren’t we all teachers? Could we all be that adult who should never give up on a child? Whether our interaction with kids is daily (as a parent or classroom teacher), weekly (as a mentor or volunteer) or ad-hoc (Helping Hands, anyone?), we can positively impact kids through encouragement and support.

Perhaps having just one Champion, one bit of encouragement, can make the difference in a child’s life to help them become the best that they can be.   That is an idea worth spreading.

Post contributed by Merris Greiber.

Take Action: Tips for Contacting Elected Officials

A simple and effective way to voice your opinion on an issue is to contact your elected officials via email, mail or social media.  Individualized communications with a specific request are best as they will likely receive higher priority over a form letter.  Social media also works! In the last half-decade, officials have leveraged social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to gauge their constitutes views and opinions.

In a poll by the Congressional Management Foundation, 64% of the social media managers surveyed think Facebook is a somewhat or very important tool for understanding constituents’ views and opinions. (source)

Which constituent types who leveraged social media are most influential with elected officials?

  • 77%: multiple constituents commenting within a group
  • 75%: leaders of a group or organization
  • 69%: a single constituent self-identifying with a group
  • 58%: a single constituent on his or her own

Ready to start?  

Below is a call-to action from Think Small, a MinneMinds coalition member, to educate local elected officials on the importance of early learning investments.  A form letter is provided that will also enable you to revise the pre-populated content and then mail or email to your officials.

From Think Small – Leaders in Early Learning: Speak Out For Children

Additional Resources

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits

How Children Succeed Praise

A couple weeks ago Renee Evansted blogged on a wonderful book, How Children Succeed. This week, I would like to take the opportunity to tag onto Renee’s post and point out a few of the ways that the Junior League of Minneapolis is furthering some of the ideals laid out in the book, and also point out a few areas where we have the opportunity to get involved. You can read the previous blog post for more context on the book, and it also linked to an article that summarizes the book:

  • One of the things that is important for children to be able to succeed as adults is self-control. The Economist article (above) summarizes, “children who grow up in abusive or dysfunctional environments generally find it harder to concentrate, sit still and rebound from disappointments. The part of the brain most affected by early stress is the prefrontal cortex, which is critical for regulating thoughts and mediating behaviour.” This characteristic begins in very early childhood. The JLM makes a significant difference in this space with the Crisis Nursery, founded by the JLM and community partners. The Crisis Nursery provides a safe place for the children of distressed, and oftentimes disadvantaged, families.
  • The H.O.M.E.S. project, a newer one for JLM, focuses on equipping parents with ways to continue Math, Engineering and Science actives through hands-on projects in their homes. One charter school that the book spends a lot of time on, KIPP, is having a lot of success in closing the achievement gap with its students. KIPP cites “Choice & Commitment” as one of their five pilars, or operating principles. A key componenet of this pillar is commitment and involvement from parents. The H.O.M.E.S. project focuses on exactly that.
  • As JLM members, you know and have participated in numerous other ways the league makes a difference toward our chosen issue. However, this book, and the KIPP model in particular, illustrate additional things that are having a profound impact on children’s success. I’ll outline a few of them as food for thought in the new year.  How can the JLM, or you as an individual, advocate and work toward closing the achievement gap by focusing on some of these things:
    • High Expectations – KIPP has high expectations for academic achievement and accepts no excuses based on a student’s background.  Who are the right partners for the league and what are the right projects in this space, if any?
    • More Time – KIPP has an extended school day, week and year, allowing more time for learning. How does the JLM provide this outside the classroom, or how could/should we?
    • Choice and Commitment – I mentioned this one above but it’s worth thinking about since it has been well researched that higher parental involvement and higher academic achievement are correlated. Parental involvement can be thought about in the context of the league or also personally for those who have children, nieces, nephews, etc. The involvement and commitment piece for KIPP also extends to teachers and students. Are there things we can do in the league to driver ownership and commitment within one or many of these groups?

I will echo Renee’s recommendation – How Children Succeed  is a worthwhile read, and it’s inspiring to recognize that the JLM is already involved in many of the critical components that put children on the path to success.

Post contributed by Kacie DeWolf.

Advocacy and Action Nationally – Early Counts in St. Petersburg, Florida

This Christmas I was telling my dad about the work we’re doing through the Junior League of Minneapolis and specifically in Advocacy.  (Not really) to my surprise, he was very well educated on the achievement gap and had a ton to share with me.

His closest peer at work is Chair/Chief Volunteer Office for their local YMCA in Florida.  In the past 2-3 years, their organization has kickstarted a campaign, Early Counts, geared toward early-childhood development and kindergarten readiness.  The goals of this program are to improve academic success, increase post-secondary attendance, lower crime rates, etc.  Sound familiar?

Earlier today, I had a great conversation with my dad’s peer to learn more about Early Counts and the work they are doing.  Many of their insights mirror those we have seen in Minnesota –

• By age 5, 90% of a child’s brain structure is developed – meaning family and community environment play a critical role in that development.

• Voluntary Prekindergarten Education programs aren’t always accessible or financially viable for families, making them unattractive.

Since the implementation of Early Counts, they have opened two early-childhood schools in the community for children aged 2-5.  One of their schools was donated to them and results so far have been outstanding.  At the start of the year, 38% of students were considered kindergarten ready and now that number is up to 83% after just one year.  In addition, 81% of students enrolled receive scholarship money through the YMCA or government ELC programs, making education affordable.

Since joining the JLM, I’ve learned a lot about the Achievement Gap, specifically in Minnesota and the Twin Cities.  But it’s important to remind ourselves this is a national issue as well, and there are some great things being done nationally to close it.  It’s this kind of work that keeps me continuously engaged and excited about advocacy and demonstrates that every action counts.

If you’re interested, below are some additional resources on Early Counts.

Early Counts Official Website –

Early Counts Video –

Post contributed by Carrie Curtis.