Interfaith Outreach steps up partnership with Wayzata and Orono school districts for community initiative

Great Expectations plan focuses on school readiness and bridging achievement and opportunity gaps

An audience of parents, teachers, school district officials and civic leaders attend the annual Great Expectations Breakfast Aug. 23 at Wayzata Community Church. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Jason Jenkins)

Standing before a crowd of parents, teachers, school district officials and civic leaders, Carol Bergenstal laid out the ultimate purpose of the Great Expectations community initiative.

“To ensure the educational success of all kids from the moment they are born to the time they launch their career,” Bergenstal said at a fundraising breakfast Aug. 23 at Wayzata Community Church. The event raised $118,000, and the campaign has now collected $185,000 toward its goal of raising $200,000 by the end of September.

Bergenstal is the chair of the education initiative that combines the forces of Plymouth-based nonprofit Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, the Wayzata and Orono school districts and community members. Launched in 2015, the effort is currently aimed at bringing effective programs and strategies to scale while heightening community-wide investment in the educational success of all kids.

“The challenge is that many of these kids face significant achievement and opportunity gaps that prevent them from reaching their full potential,” Bergenstal said.

Referencing the hurdles some students face, Bergenstal noted that among the 14,000 students in the two school districts, 1,600 students are living in poverty. Some students also face a language barrier. According to the school districts, 63 languages are spoken in students’ homes.

Great Expectations Director Matthew Miller speaks at an Aug. 23 fundraising breakfast at Wayzata Community Church. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Jason Jenkins)

During the past five months, Great Expectations’ five action teams identified these barriers by conducting 51 listening sessions to gain the perspective and advice of parents, students, teachers, principals, social workers and early education experts. The action teams consisted of parents, community volunteers, school district staff and Interfaith Outreach staff and each team focused on an age group, from 0-5 through 18-22.

The next step in the process will happen this fall, when three new action teams are launched in the areas of cultural connections, mental health and transportation.

The overall goals are: All preschoolers are ready for kindergarten, all children reach key benchmarks for third grade reading success, all children reach key benchmarks for eighth grade math success, all students graduate from high school and all students complete their post-secondary education.

Brad Sleeper, facilitator for the action team focused on students age 14-18, shared the story of a family who seven years ago migrated to Minnesota from the small West African country of Togo. The family’s oldest son, who was in third grade in Togo, was moved to first grade here because he spoke almost no English. After taking part in Interfaith Outreach programs and receiving one-on-one mentoring from a teacher, the student was at grade level by the end of the school year.

An attendee of the Aug. 23 Great Expectations Breakfast reads about volunteer opportunities for the education initiative, which combines the forces of Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, the Wayzata and Orono school districts and surrounding community members. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Jason Jenkins)

“These teams were charged with discovering the barriers and the opportunities for our kids to succeed, all kids,” said Barbara Carlson, facilitator for the action team focused on students age 6-8. “We identified those programs that were working and helping our kids and we thought about how could we expand them and perhaps recommend some newer ones.”

LaDonna Hoy, executive director and founder of Interfaith Outreach, also spoke at the breakfast. Hoy said over the past 40 years, Interfaith Outreach has become intimately familiar with helping families in the community overcome barriers such as locating safe and affordable housing, securing affording childcare and finding employment and transportation.

“This is no ordinary community,” Hoy said. “This is an aware, attentive, welcoming, inclusive community that steps up and stays with what matters for everyone who makes their home with us.”

LaDonna Hoy, executive director and founder of Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, speaks Aug. 23 at the annual Great Expectations Breakfast. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Jason Jenkins)

Volunteer opportunities with Great Expectations include work as a homework mentor, youth mentor, reading advocate, actions organizer and community engager.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit iocp.org/youth or contact Liz Erstad-Hicks at [email protected] or 763-489-7506.

To make a donation to the campaign, visit iocp.org/donate, and choose “Great Expectations” from the drop-down menu.

To learn more about the community initiative, visit iocp.org/greatexpectations.

Brad Sleeper and Barbara Carlson, action team facilitators for Great Expectations, rally support from community members at an Aug. 23 fundraising event for the education initiative. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Jason Jenkins)