Plan brings together nonprofit with the Wayzata and Orono School Districts to ensure school readiness, create equal opportunities
LaDonna Hoy, executive director for Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, stood in front of a packed room at IOCP’s Plymouth headquarters. With a firm hand around the microphone, Hoy, who founded nonprofit in 1979, laid out an overarching objective for the organization’s newest initiative: to unleash the full potential of every child in the community.
“Access to equal educational opportunity for each and every child all along the way, from cradle career, has been the promise of America’s educational system for over a century and is certainly the long-held dream of each and every parent for their kids,” said Hoy, before pointing out a bitter truth for far too many families in the community. The promise, she said, has become “the dream deferred.”
“The goals of Great Expectation are simple, achieving them is complex,” Hoy said.
The words fell on the ears of an attentive audience comprised of concerned parents, grandparents, teachers, school board members, district officials, principals, representatives of faith communities and civic leaders.
The audience was part of the community kickoff event Aug. 5 for IOCP’s newest initiative toward ensuring that school readiness and success is available to every student in the community.
Hoy said the number of school-aged kids living in poverty has grown 51 percent since 2005, totaling more than 1,500 kids living in poverty in the Wayzata and Orono School Districts.
“Affluent suburban communities and top-performing school districts like Wayzata and Orono are reporting significant results for kids and also significant and unacceptable opportunity and achievement gaps,” Hoy said. “Suburban poverty is no stranger to us. Our kids, particularly our kids of color and from low-income families are struggling.”
According to Wayzata and Orono Public Schools, 90 percent of white and Asian students were proficient in reading in the 2013-14 school year, while 46 percent of black and Hispanic students were not. A sizable gap was also seen in math, with 83 percent of white and Asian students proficient, compared to the 55 percent of black and Hispanic students who were not.
Hoy said IOCP, in collaboration with the Wayzata and Orono School Districts, is working to create an ecosystem of support to narrow the racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps in the community. To do this, the Great Expectations education initiative will build upon several school and IOCP initiatives already in place:
• Camp CONECT (Community Organizations Networking Compassionately Together) – a free eight-week summer camp that offers activities in a safe and fun environment for kids in grades 1-8. The camp provides academic, social and recreational activities designed to help kids living in IOCP’s multi-unit apartments gain and retain learning skills over the summer.
• CONECT Homework Club – an effort to link kids with volunteers who are trained to promote basic math and reading skills through games and activities and to assist with homework.
• LA (Leadership and Activities) Club – a group-mentoring program focused on teaching teens the importance of giving back to their community through volunteerism.
• Wayzata School District’s Literacy Volunteer Program – a reading program that focuses on improving the reading skills of struggling readers in grades 3-5.
• Caring for Kids Initiative – a collaborative effort with Wayzata Public Schools and childcare services in the community. The education program focuses on preparing young learners for kindergarten by providing access to early education programming, engaging parents, offering holistic community support and developing a model to ensure access for children from low-income families.
According to IOCP, there are 530 children from low-income families in the community who are in need of access to quality programming to be ready for kindergarten. This past year, the Caring for Kids Initiative served 162 young learners with full and part-time early childhood scholarships and their 245 parents with support and education at 10 quality early learning centers in the community.
Hoy said several key benchmarks for the Great Expectations initiative include kids in the community being fully prepared for Kindergarten, meeting and exceeding third-grade reading standards, 8th-grade math proficiency, graduating from high school and completing post secondary education.
Jill Johnson, director of teaching and learning for Wayzata Public Schools, also spoke at the kickoff event. Referencing the Wayzata School District’s newly refreshed Strategic Road Map, Johnson said the district has focused its key goals toward eliminating achievement gaps.
Johnson said that through the support of IOCP’s programs and community involvement, the school district will work toward its goals of student achievement not being predicted by any demographic classification such as race, socioeconomic status, gender or disability.
The school district’s Strategic Road Map also includes working toward ensuring that by the end of third grade, all students are at or beyond grade level expectations for reading, writing, speaking and math.
Johnson said a partnership with IOCP and its programs also help provide struggling students in the community a drive to unlock and follow through on their potential. To demonstrate this, guests were invited to the next room for an international festival hosted by the kids of Camp CONECT. There excited kids displayed what they’ve learned this summer about the global community while showing off the many crafts they had completed.
In the hall, Matt, a young musician and Camp CONECT kid, played his electric guitar for those stopping to listen.
“Everyone brings something with them when they come to school,” Johnson said. “We are not blank slates … Everyone has a strength. Our job is to find out what that strength is and use that to help move kids from where they are to where they need to be.”
To learn more about IOCP’s Great Expectations initiative and how to get involved, visit iocp.org/get-involved/great-expectations
Contact Jason Jenkins at [email protected]