Minnesota Awards State’s First Alternative Teacher Preparation Grants

Minnesota Awards State’s First Alternative Teacher Preparation Grants

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education announced the five recipients of the State’s first Alternative Teacher Preparation Grant Program:

  • Southwest West Central Service Cooperative
  • Learning Disabilities Association of Minnesota
  • Lakes Country Service Cooperative
  • The New Teacher Project
  • Teach For America

According to Larry Pogemiller, the Commissioner of the Office of Higher Education, “The five chosen programs all demonstrate innovative and promising teacher preparation methods that can help Minnesota schools meet the challenge of finding the teachers they need.”

The grant program was created during the 2017 legislative session and allocated $750,000 for new alternative preparation programs that intended to do one or more of the following:

  • Fill Minnesota’s teacher shortage in licensure areas that the commissioner has identified.
  • Recruit, select, and train teachers who reflect the racial or ethnic diversity of the students in Minnesota.
  • Establish professional development programs for teachers who have obtained teaching licenses through alternative teacher preparation programs.

Importantly, only a “school district, charter school, or nonprofit” were eligible for the grant monies, meaning that institutions of higher education were not. Additionally, in order to be eligible, programs must also have been in operation for three continuous years in Minnesota or any other state, and are working to fill the state’s teacher shortage areas. Finally, the commissioner of Higher Education must give preference to programs that are based in Minnesota.

This post will provide a description of an alternative teacher preparation program, as well as a description of the programs for each of the grant recipients.

What is an Alternative Teacher Preparation Program?

In 2011, the Minnesota legislature passed a law that created the opportunity for alternative teacher preparation programs to be created. According to a 2016 Office of the Legislative Auditor report, school district, charter schools, and nonprofit organizations are eligible to establish an alternative program by partnering with a college or university that had an alternative teacher preparation program. Additionally, school districts and charter schools are also able to establish an alternative program by forming a partnership with certain nonprofit organizations, but only after they had consulted with a college or university with a teacher preparation program.

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One-third of community college students ‘misdirected’ to remedial classes

One-third of community college students ‘misdirected’ to remedial classes

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According to new research, one-third of community college students enrolled in remedial coursework don’t even need them.

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) and social policy researcher MDRC recently released a research guide, “Toward Better College Course Placement,” revealing standard placement tests, such as the College Board’s ACCUPLACER, are actually “misdirecting” student placements.

This is important to note as a disparate number of African American students are placed in remedial courses. A 2016 report by the American Center for Progress placed the rate at 56 percent of African American students versus 35 percent of Whites. Another report, by inewsource/Hechinger Report, shows African American students are five times as likely to end up in the lowest level of remedial English coursework.

Under-placement creates additional barriers for students who are now required to pay for coursework with no credit. A 2016 report by the Education Reform Now showed that remedial coursework cost first-year students and their families nearly $1.5 billion a year in out-of-pocket expenses — expenses that don’t go towards their degrees.

In addition, many students never make it out of the remedial pipeline, having to take up to four non-credit-earning courses before putting a dent in their college requirements.

To address such under-placements, the CCRC and MDRC launched the pilot Multiple Measures Assessment (MMA) project in the fall of 2016, exploring alternative assessment options to determine whether students have been “misdirected” to remedial reading, math and English coursework. Their research guide follows the project’s partnership with 10 Minnesota and Wisconsin community colleges to design and pilot the new placement systems.

“Developmental education requires student time and expense, it may discourage some potential college students.”

By the summer of 2017, the organizations found that, while 60 percent of students are required to take developmental (remedial) education courses, one in three could be considered for traditional courses if testing is combined with other assessment tools, such as ACT Engage or the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory.

“There is strong empirical evidence that high school grade point average (GPA) is one of the best predictors of college success,” the researchers wrote. The report also noted that, while not as strong a predictor, non-cognitive measures, such as attendance, participation and problem-solving skills, should also be considered as influences.

“Improving placement testing by integrating a multiple measures approach seeks to place students at a level at which they can succeed without diverting them into unnecessary courses that delay or even derail their progress,” said Gordon L. Berlin, MDRC president.

The guide notes the project’s goal is to redirect students who could fare well. “Students who need developmental education to succeed in college-level courses should be placed into developmental courses,” wrote researchers.

The report also acknowledges “practitioners may be hesitant to change their current practices, skeptical about the measures used, or unsure where to start.” It outlines several recommendations and examples to encourage college administrators to consider alternative placement options.

“Because developmental education requires student time and expense, it may discourage some potential college students. It is important to ensure that those who could succeed in college-level courses get the opportunity to take them upon entry into college,” concluded the report. “The use of an MMA placement strategy should increase the chances that students will be optimally placed, which should then increase their chances of future success.”

Minnesota is already on-board to adapt new changes. The state legislature passed legislation in 2017 requiring the Minnesota State Board of Trustees (MSBT) to reform developmental education offerings at system campuses. The MSBT is required to implement system-wide multiple measures placement guidelines by the start of the 2020- 2021 academic year.

Some changes have already been implemented, including updates to the ACCUPLACER exam to provide a weighted score that could potentially boost student scores just below the college-level cut score along with ACCUPLACER exam waivers for students whose ACT, SAT, or Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) scores demonstrate college readiness.

The project’s next phase is to conduct a “randomized controlled trial of multiple measures assessment in five of the pilot colleges” to determine coursework completion rates of students moved to college-level courses. The MMA project is also now exploring new placement assessments at colleges within the State University of New York system.

The Wright Stuff

The Wright Stuff

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Twin Cities native Joetta Wright has commitment to excellence in her blood. Her mom, Patricia Wright, is the first African American woman in Minnesota to own a court reporting business, and Gloria Wright, Joetta’s grandmother, was one of the state’s first African Americans to become a registered nurse. Joetta is continuing that trailblazing lineage through arts and education.

Armed with a master’s degree in theatre education and teaching licensure from the University of Minnesota, the working film, television and stage actor uses her craft to culturally and socially educate the community via several avenues.

One such contribution is Wright’s weekly podcast Double Consciousness which explores, in part, the W.E.B. DuBois concept of what it means to have a divided identity while navigating dominant culture politics and social norms as artists of color.

“The primary purpose of Double Consciousness,” said Wright, “is to shine a light on how notions of race affect the psyches of Black and Brown people in the global community. As [co-host] Toussaint Morrison and I dissect our own experiences with race, we open up the discussion to the public in hopes of building a deeper understanding of the trauma we live with as people of color, and what it truly means to be a White ally in America.”

Wright also tackles a troublesome issue too often overlooked: diet and eating habits of Black folk and the impact that has on physical well-being. “My beliefs concerning health are complex. I believe that because of our history of enslavement, we have been raised to believe that Black food is synonymous with foods that puts [us] at high risk for myriad health problems.

“Also, because of the systemic racism that we see within the construction of neighborhood grocery stores, we see the very purposeful placement of liquor stores and corner stores in majority-Black neighborhoods to perpetuate the cycle of unhealthy living habits coupled with cheap and quick options for food.

Black food, or “soul food,” has traditionally included the least nutritional parts of pigs and cows — think chitlins, pig feet —along with kitchen scraps fried in high-fat, high-calorie grease. For Wright, food education is key in breaking this historical cycle.

“I began my health journey at college as I gained more understanding of the importance of eating a healthy mix of greens, fruits, meat, dairy and grains,” said Wright. “We have to be aware. We have to understand that when it comes to food, we, the Black community, are being groomed for extinction.”

In addition, Wright uses her talents to teach not only acting, but also African and African American art, music, and literature. Last year, she led North Minneapolis High School students through programming that introduced them to such fundamentals as movement, voice and diction. It also included looking at social and political change through the lens of theatre.

Her philosophy on classroom instruction is clear. “Our goal as teachers is for the student to be at the center of everything we do,” said Wright. “To create curriculum with each child in mind, we must design personal connections to content and encourage critical thinking.

“When we ask our students to independently identify their educational goals, and participate in developing their educational experience, they take ownership of that experience, and value their understanding in more profound ways.

Through this, she hopes to create a sea change in how students, especially students of color, view themselves in the education process.

“I believe that we can empower our students by giving them opportunities to teach their peers new content, by promoting choice-based projects, and by investing the time it takes to understand the learning needs of all students,” explained Wright.

“So often, our national and state leaders pledge their time and energy toward building our communities and providing the support for our citizens who need it the most. More often than not, those promises are hollow.

“We have to show our students of color that there is a place for them in education, and that we hold the same expectations for all students. Only then can we begin to inspire our students to become the agents of change that they are meant to be.”

Double Consciousness is published weekly on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. For more information, visit doubleconsciousness.com.

MSR celebrates graduates and parents with 23rd annual scholarship dinner (photos)

MSR celebrates graduates and parents with 23rd annual scholarship dinner (photos)

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The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) and its nonprofit namesake the Spokesman-Recorder 501(c)(3) hosted the 23rd annual Graduation Celebration Thursday, May 24 at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley. More than 200 community members, graduating students and their parents attended the free scholarship dinner and ceremony awards. Ten students were presented with Cecil E. Newman Scholarships at the event themed “Education and Graduation: It’s a family affair.”

Each year, the MSR invites graduating African and African American high school students in Minnesota to participate in a 500-word essay contest for the scholarship named after the late MSR founder and publisher. A volunteer essay committee selects the winners.

This year’s 2018 Cecil E. Newman $1000 Scholarship winners are Zarina Sementelli, Majeste Phillip, Jay Viar Johnson, Jasmine Jackson, Charlotte DeVaughn, Verbena Dempster, Jerrell Daniel and Maryam Abullahi. Two additional graduating students, Miracle Campton and Amed Faud, each received a $500 Cecil E. & Launa Newman scholarship.

After the event, scholarship recipient Zarina Sementelli said, “It feels empowering and liberating to receive this honor because of who I am and everything I had to overcome.”

Comedian and radio personality Shed G, who has become a mainstay for the graduation celebration, emceed the event and kept the audience entertained and laughing throughout the evening like a “Ringmaster of Fun.”

Travis Lee/MSR News

When asked what it meant for him to get the call to emcee the MSR event again, he said, “What I love about all of this is [that] you see students from different nationalities and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recordergiving them an opportunity to receive scholarship money. The other thing I love is when the guest speakers say something that I can take home as an adult. It makes being here each time extra special.”

The Graduation Celebration featured a variety of offerings, including a career, resource and education expo in the afternoon followed by the gala dinner, live entertainment, and giveaways in the evening.

Keynote speaker Dr. Tonya Jackman Hampton, Ph.D. spoke on the importance of individual branding and knowing where you come from. Dr. Jackman Hampton advised that one should find one’s executive style and then own it. She encouraged the students not to buy into the lie that using proper communication skills is a form of “sounding or talking White.”

Jackman Hampton also referenced her brand as an example, revealing that she, too, benefited from the influence of the late Cecil E. Newman as one of his granddaughters and embraced the Graduation Celebration’s “It’s a Family Affair” theme with pride.

Performers included “Step with Soul” step team, which opened the entertainment with a fiery, synchronized, crowd-pleasing and foot-stomping routine; and a creatively choreographed performance by dance troupe Shape Shift. Singer Kennedy Hurst also graced the stage with her rendition of Mariah Carey’s Hero.

[/media-credit] Step With Soul dance troupe were one of the evenings many highlights

Tracey Williams-Dillard, MSR CEO & publisher, closed the evening with heartfelt words. “Being in a room with all of the graduates and their families to recognize their achievements and accomplishments truly demonstrates that “Education and Graduation” is a family affair,” said Williams-Dillard.

Over the years, the MSR has recruited marquee-name entertainers as keynote speakers such as LL Cool J, Tavis Smiley, Kimberly Elise, Hill Harper and Nick Cannon, just to name a few, who have helped put the annual Celebration on the local and national map. In recent years, however, MSR has recruited from local talent to address the scholarship winners and their families. The main event sponsor for the Graduation Celebration was the Medtronic Foundation.

African or African American high school students graduating in 2019 are encouraged to apply for next year’s MSR Graduation Celebration in the spring at www.graduation-celebration.com or call the MSR at 612-827-4021.

Below, find our Graduation Celebration insert, including Cecil E. Newman scholarship essays and remarks from Mayor Jacob Frey, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and others. Go here to see this year’s entries for the 2018 Community Yearbook. Scroll down to the more photos from Travis Lee.

OPINION: New ‘Poor People’s Campaign’ revives Dr. King’s vision

OPINION: New ‘Poor People’s Campaign’ revives Dr. King’s vision

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I must remind you that a starving child is violence. Suppressing a culture is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical needs is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence. – Coretta Scott King

Something is wrong that we have to feed so many. Why should there be poverty with all of our science and technology? There is no deficit in human resources – it is a deficit in human will. – Coretta Scott King

It was not my intent to retread some of the thematic ground I’ve covered over the past couple of months, but current events both locally and across the nation, cause me to do so.

The two columns that were published here in April marked 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination, and subsequently, the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The discussion of the Fair Housing Act is particularly relevant today, as there have been numerous efforts in recent years, both underhanded and overt, to undermine and ultimately overturn this essential law (as ineffectual as it has sometimes been).

Another 50-year milestone that has just passed is what history has come to know as “The Roads to Resurrection City.” It was on Mother’s Day, May 12, 1968, that Coretta Scott King led thousands of demonstrators from far and wide to Washington, D.C. demanding that the U.S. Congress pass an Economic Bill of Rights, an idea originally proposed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944.

The centerpiece of Dr. King’s “Poor People’s Campaign,” the Economic Bill of Rights called for, among other things, full employment and a living wage; sufficient and affordable housing; and the right to health care, social security, and quality education. Of the Poor Peoples Campaign, Dr. King said, “We believe the highest patriotism demands the ending of the [Vietnam] war and the opening of a bloodless war to final victory over racism and poverty.”

Of course, Dr. King was not around to witness the culmination of this campaign or the establishment of Resurrection City on the National Mall where he helped to lead the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom nearly five years earlier. In late June of 1968, six weeks after setting up camp in Resurrection City, demonstrators were violently evicted by the local police and National Guard. Nearly 300 of them, including Dr. King’s most trusted aide Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, were arrested.

Today, history is repeating itself as a new movement (inspired by Dr. King’s original vision), The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, has emerged in communities throughout the United States. This campaign restates the demands of 50 years ago and adds several more. It highlights the rising social and racial inequities in employment, education, housing, economic security, access to health care and health-related outcomes, human rights, and environmental justice.

On Monday, May 14, thousands of protestors, including 13 near the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, were arrested as they engaged in a national groundswell of nonviolent civil disobedience. According to the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign, this calls for “new initiatives to fight systematic poverty and racism, immediate attention to ecological devastation, and measures to curb militarism and the war economy.”

The national Poor People’s Campaign, along with its state and local affiliates and supporting partners, will continue these demonstrations over the next several weeks before convening at the United States Capitol Building on Saturday, June 23. Dating back to the Women’s March on Washington in January of 2017 up to the student-led March for Our Lives this spring, this will be at least the 22nd major demonstration to take place in Washington, D.C. over the last year-and-a-half.

I am curious to see how America reacts to the upcoming June march as well as to all of the related events leading up to it. Why? Well, let’s be frank for a minute.

An enduring theme throughout the history of this nation is that people living in poverty are somehow to blame for their own plight. There are a number of journalists, scholars and activists, including John A. Powell and Arthur Brooks, who have recently declared that “America can’t fix poverty until it stops hating poor people.”

Please indulge me for a moment while I shift gears to reinforce this point. I chose the two quotes above from Mrs. King specifically for their bold and straightforward assertions. Number one: Poverty is violence. And second, as her husband acutely noted, “Poverty has no justification in our age.”

Why then, do we not have the will to end it? Why do we choose to hate instead?

On a couple of occasions, I have used this space to reference insights from comedian W. Kamau Bell’s CNN documentary series “United Shades of America.” In the third season’s premier episode, which aired at the end of April, Bell visits the U.S.-Mexican border to engage locals about their thoughts on “illegal immigration” and “the wall.”

He visits with a pair of Border Patrol officers who, above all, view their principle responsibility as saving lives. They cite the hundreds of migrants, determined to make a better life for themselves and their families, who die every year from dehydration, heat stroke, and even hypothermia.

It is very common for activists and even concerned citizens who live on the border to leave water out in the hope they might possibly save the life of a fellow human being. Yet, Bell contrasts this good will with images that have been captured of Border Patrol agents who think differently than the two he interviewed.

Knowing full well why the water is there, one Border Patrol agent is shown on film casually kicking gallon after gallon of water down a steep desert hill. Another agent is shown simply dumping water into the sand while he smiles and speaks directly into the camera.

Whatever he was muttering was unintelligible to me, but he was obviously quite proud of himself. Apparently, that was his idea of justice, or national security, or whatever.

Let that sink in. And while we do, let us not forget that poverty is violence. Poverty kills. Hate kills.

Clarence Hightower is the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104

Betsy DeVos Loves School Choice. But You Don’t See Much of It in ESSA Plans

Betsy DeVos Loves School Choice. But You Don’t See Much of It in ESSA Plans

Education Week logoU.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a big cheerleader for school choice. And way before she came into office, states around the country were adopting tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, and more.

So has all that translated into a big bonanza for school choice in states’ Every Student Succeeds Act plans? Not really.

To be sure, ESSA isn’t a school choice law. School choice fans in Congress weren’t able to persuade their colleagues to include Title I portability in the law, which would have allowed federal funding to follow students to the public school of their choice.

However, the law does has some limited avenues for states to champion various types of school choice options. But only a handful of states are taking advantage of those opportunities, according to reviews of the plans by Education Week and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

School Improvement: At least 12 states say they want schools that are perennially low-performing to consider reopening as charter schools to boost student achievement. Those states are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.

COMMENTARY: ‘I have all the weapons I need’ – taking action to heal your autistic child

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In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, Sheletta shares her experience as the mother of three children on the autism spectrum.

My son Brandon, after he was diagnosed as autistic, had an appointment with a speech pathologist named Becky at a local children’s hospital. They say it was random and that the computer picked her, but I know now it was divine intervention.

I insisted that my momma tag along for the evaluation since she didn’t believe there was anything wrong with my child and I was just making it all up to get attention for myself. “You won’t trust your daughter,” I chided her, “so I’m gon’ take you with me and let these White folks with some letters behind their names tell you that Brandon has autism. Maybe you’ll listen to them.”

She rolled her eyes and pursed her lips. I ain’t care. She was gon’ go with me to every appointment and every evaluation until she was on board with Brandon’s recovery plan.

When Becky came out to the lobby of the speech center to receive us, she had the biggest smile and the warmest spirit. I knew at that moment that she would be a blessing to my family.

While she evaluated Brandon, she insisted my mother and I stay in the room with her. Unlike other evaluators before her, she wanted to include us in what she was doing.

My ol’ nay-saying momma sat there with her arms folded and her legs crossed looking like the angry Black church usher that she is. Becky didn’t let Momma’s stank attitude intimidate her. She kept on testing. Asking questions. Running trials.

When Becky was done with everything, I could see my momma’s disposition had changed. Suddenly Momma saw what I saw – that my baby, her favorite grandson, had autism and would need intense help to get better.

Becky, being led by the Spirit, addressed my momma right away: “Mrs. Handy,” she assured her, “with the right therapy your grandson can be a normal kid, but it’s going to take a lot of work. But the hardest part is done. You’re no longer in denial.”

My momma couldn’t even breathe she was crying so hard…

Becky told her plainly, “You should be proud of your daughter for bringing little Brandon in as soon as she noticed something was wrong. That doesn’t typically happen with Black parents. Now, my White parents, I’ve had them bring their kids to be evaluated as young as six months old. That means they get treatment and services for their special needs child right away. Then, by the time the little kiddo heads to pre-school, they’ve had three years of therapy, and by then they’ve caught up to their friends.”

“But why don’t Black parents come in sooner?” my momma had the audacity to ask.

“Cause they’re in denial, just like you,” I fussed. “Instead of seeing that something is wrong with our kids and trying to fix it right away, we turn a blind eye.”

“And by the time my Black families start looking for help,” Becky added, “the child is five or six years old and they haven’t had any therapy, they can’t talk, and they’re acting out.”

I put another two-cents in: “Because they can’t talk, they’re in school frustrated and fighting. Now we run to a therapist looking for a miracle when we done missed out on three or four years of good therapy.”

“And early intervention is the key,” Becky reminded us. “The sooner your child gets help, the better the outcome.”

“So what’s next?” I asked Becky. “How do I get my baby to a point where autism is in his past and college and a career are in his future?”

I had been so frustrated prior to meeting Becky. Nobody helped me. Nobody told me what I needed to do. Not one doctor, therapist or specialist threw me a life-line.

Becky was different. She walked over to her desk, got a pencil, some paper and a clipboard that she handed to me and directed, “Write down what I’m about to tell you. This is what you need to do for Brandon.”

With that she laid out the road map for my son’s successful transition from special education to accelerated learner:

  • Get him into a quality private pre-school a few days per week. Keep him out of special education classes in the public school if you can. Make sure the pre-school teachers are educated and have degrees.
  • When he does go to elementary school, make sure you have a plan to mainstream him into a regular classroom as quickly as he’s ready for it.
  • Have him see a good private speech therapist. The public schools will provide some special services like speech and occupational therapy, but if you want the best care, you’re going to have to pay for it.
  • Find an occupational and physical therapist Brandon can visit once weekly so he can work on his fine and gross motor skills.
  • Get under the care of a developmental pediatrician and a developmental psychologist for yearly evaluations and medications that may be helpful to curb some of the typical autistic behaviors.
  • And finally, and most importantly, get him signed up for applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy either at a center or in the home. This method of therapy has been proven the most effective at helping children with autism.

I could have kissed that White lady on the mouth. She had just laid out a solid foundation to help heal my child. But after looking over my notes, I asked, “How, Ms. Becky, can I afford this? Private school. Three or four different kinds of therapy. Medication from specialists who may or may not take my insurance—”

She cut me off: “There are scholarships and grants available that will give you the money to pay for everything you need for your child. All you have to do is go online to find them, then apply.”

I left her office with a mission, determined to find help for my baby.

The speech therapist she recommended cost a whopping $800 a month (they so good, honey, they don’t even take insurance; it’s a straight cash payment like the weed man). It didn’t come out of my pocket, though, because I applied for a United Health Care Foundation Grant that gave me $5,000 to cover the cost.

The tab for that applied behavior therapy for Brandon was $900 per month, and that was after our medical coverage kicked in. It didn’t matter because I found the C.A.D.E. scholarship [Children with Autism Deserve Education, a Minnesota nonprofit] and it paid for an entire year.

I continued to find more and more resources. Before it was all over, I raised nearly $50,000 to pay for all the good therapy Brandon needed. I got so good at finding money to pay for stuff, I started holding free workshops for parents who have special needs kids to teach them how to find grant money and scholarships for their children.

And guess what? All the White churches let me in, and they were always full of folks who were looking for financial assistance. Our Black churches would not let me in. Well, that’s not fair to say all of them rejected me; I’m still waiting on the deacon board from a few of them to get back with me.

And remember, I’m doing this for free!

Now, after three years of quality therapy like them White folks be getting, my child is in a regular kindergarten classroom. He’s reading, doing math, giving me eye contact, talking and talking back.

Yes, honey, he is a typical five-year-old boy. Today, right now, you can’t tell he had been diagnosed with autism.

God is good. I’m glad He chose me to be this bright little boy’s mommy. Brandon has hope and a bright future, and I’m thankful to Ms. Becky for giving me the roadmap to get there.

I was home free with Brandon’s recovery – or so I thought. I must have done too good a job, because the Lord decided to choose me two more times. My daughter Cameron and my son Daniel have also been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting ready to do battle. This time I have all the weapons I need. My family motto: We want our kids healed, not helped!

Sheletta has provided a list of centers in the Twin Cities that provide excellent care to children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. In addition, she’s provided links to all the scholarships and grants that are available to pay for therapy and medication. See below for details.

1. Partners in Excellence
2. Fraser Center
3. Family Achievement Center
4. Lovaas Institute
5. Minnesota Autism Center
6. Behavior Therapy Solutions
Scholarships/Grants available to pay for therapy
1. Children with Autism Deserve Education
2. United Healthcare Children’s Foundation
3. Small Steps In Speech
4. RiteCare of Minneapolis-St. Paul
5. Autism Recovery Foundation
6. First Hand Foundation
7. ACT Today
8. MyGOAL Enrichment Grant
9. Blooming with Autism
10. Helping Hand Foundation

Sheletta Brundidge is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at shelettab@gmail.com.

Multi-state mentorship program asks students, ‘Why You?’

Multi-state mentorship program asks students, ‘Why You?’

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Several years ago, Dr. Renaldo Blocker was reflecting on the importance of mentors in his life. “We realized that we were fortunate to have a support system throughout our academic and professional career.” Blocker is a Mayo Clinic healthcare systems engineering assistant professor.

“We were fortunate to have these people in our lives… Many of our peers did not.” Blocker wanted to help other students benefit from such support – and more. From this emerged “Why You?”

The support system Blocker envisioned back in 2003 included mentoring, but, he explained, it was “way more than that.” In 2011, he and Dr. Antonio Daniels co-founded the “Why You?” Initiative, Inc. (YU?), a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization.

The program was about more than providing resources: It’s about “connecting with other people who can help me move forward in my life.” Blocker added, “We still have those same mentors [and the] same support system today that continually challenges us to move forward and become even better and brighter.”

Asked about the group’s title, Blocker recalled, “We were trying to come up with a good name. We said we should be asking a rhetorical question and we came up with ‘Why You?’ We are questioning the students on why me [to] help them understand that they are needed, [they] are unique, they are valued, and they have a sense of purpose for the greater community. They don’t realize that.”

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Blocker is a first-generation college graduate with degrees in computer science and industrial and systems engineering. “We provide a support system for students either younger than us [or] older than us,” he said. “As we become more educated, we provide a theoretical and conceptual framework in how we approach it.”

He said that of the estimated 180 students participating in the program, nearly half are males. All are from low-income backgrounds. “We have students in 17 states. We don’t have branches. Ages range from 15-year-olds to the oldest person in the organization, who is 47 years old.

“Eighty percent of our budget comes from me and the co-founder; the other [20] percent comes from our friends,” Blocker said of the group’s funding. Last year, his organization received several grants, including one from the St. Paul Foundation “that helped with our programming,” he reported.

Blocker said there are monthly webinars, which usually begin in May and run through September. He added there is also an on-line ConFab being planned for this September.

“We have students across the board,” he continued. “A lot of our students are STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] majors — about 40 percent. We have students who are in the arts and humanities, pre-law [and] medical school.

“We are more of a long-term engagement that includes not just high school and undergraduate students – we do the gamut. We try to tackle high school students and post-high school students, the ones that maybe graduate from high school but need someone in their life to show them and support them through a higher pace.

“Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative does fall in line in what we do,” he said.

Why You? held its first in-person ConFab last month in Minneapolis expecting about 180 people, but nearly 200 persons showed up, said Blocker. “I thought the numbers would be real low because it was our first time. We were surprisingly pleased with the turnout.

“They [the conference participants] thought it was an excellent event and said they would like to come again. People came away feeling empowered. The purpose was for all those students that we serve [to have] an opportunity to come to Minnesota and actually meet some of their mentors face-to-face for the first time.”

There is no formal requirement to participate in Why You? “We have an on-line application process that we open up in June and November,” Blocker concluded. “The only requirement is that we want students to want to be helped. If those students don’t want to be helped, we can’t reach out to help them.”

For further information, email admin@whyyou.org or go to www.confab.whyyou.org.

Districts Are Supposed to Use Evidence to Improve Schools Under ESSA. Will They?

Districts Are Supposed to Use Evidence to Improve Schools Under ESSA. Will They?

Education Week logoThe Every Student Succeeds Act is supposed to bring about a big change in school improvement. The law says states and districts can use any kind of interventions they want in low-performing schools, as long as they have evidence to back them up.

But the provision has some experts worried. They’re concerned that there just aren’t enough strategies with a big research base behind them for schools to choose from. These experts also worried that district officials may not have the capacity or expertise to figure out which interventions will actually work.

Districts, they’ve said, may end up doing the same things they have before, and may end up getting the same results.

“My guess is, you’ll see a lot of people doing the things they were already doing,” said Terra Wallin, who worked as a career staffer at the federal Education Department on school turnaround issues and is now a consultant with Education First, a policy organization that is working with states on ESSA implementation. “You’ll see a lot of providers approaching schools or districts to say, ‘Look, we meet the evidence standard,'” Wallin said…

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