Last week we featured a straight up, just the facts post about the Youth Voice Community Conversation, Itasca area responds to youth voices on strengths, gaps in support. Today we’re featuring a story by Grand Rapids Herald Review reporter Nathan Bergstedt, that focuses on what made this event unique and significant. He begins…

One wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear the White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” played by a live student band at a gathering of educational professionals, but then again, one wouldn’t necessarily expect such a strong representation of actual students at such a gathering either. As it turns out, both happened at the Youth Voice Community Conversation… an event that put the students first by allowing area teenagers a voice at the table with policy makers and community leaders.

Core to IAISS’s work has been keeping youth at the center of everything we do. Figuring out how to “put the students first” at these big community meetings (the Youth Voice Community Conversation was our sixth) has been an exercise in trial and error. This year we turned to the Pathway itself and found that it is through relationships, guidance and direction from parents, caring adults, teachers, counselors and advisors that an authentic invitation could be extended – and accepted. More to come about this in a post by the evening’s emcee, Kim Geislinger.

Once the kids walked through the door, it was the focus of the event that held them there…

Part of the reason why this huge gathering of more than 200 people was organized was to unveil the results of the Youth Voice Student Survey. More than 2,300 students throughout Itasca County in grades six through twelve were questioned about their educational experiences within their community, focusing on whether or not they have a stable relationship with an involved parent, access to the arts and physical activities, out-of-school programing, and access to technology, to name a few. The results to some of the questions could be considered about normal, or as to be expected, but there were points of interest that weren’t foreseen. For example, on the question of whether or not students were able to participate in community activities, only eight percent gave the high mark of “thriving,” while 74 percent checked “challenged” or “vulnerable,” the bottom two marks.

Opportunities to dig deeper, make meaning and take action on this question, and all the survey results, lie ahead. We do know that the young people who attended this community activity were engaged in and appreciative of the opportunity…

The Youth Voice Community Conversation, besides acting as a venue to unveil the survey results, was another opportunity for area students to voice their concerns about the community, only this time they were free to be as candid as they wished to be. Many who were present took full advantage of that opportunity, both expressing themselves within the individual roundtable discussions at the event, as well as taking on leadership roles when it came to sharing conclusions from the discussions with the entire room.

“I like how everyone has come together to talk about what should happen to maybe make things right for the community,” said Northern Lights Community School eighth grader Jack Zozgornik, one of many students from NLCS who was very active at the community conversation.

Jack’s observation echoes the core belief reflected in the Pathway – that “Student success is the cornerstone of community success,” It was fitting that Nathan Bergstedt lifted up this interdependence as he concluded his piece…

At the end of the day, it seemed like respect for one another was the high water mark of success, as was helping each other accomplish their goals.

To c54760a9edacae.imageap off the night on a high note, the Nashwauk-Keewatin Cheer Squad was brought to the stage to do a dance number to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” only an audio problem left the squad dancing to a peppy song at very low volume; it was barely loud enough to fill the Timberlake banquet hall. Undeterred, the squad kept going, and were soon joined by the entire audience, who followed suit by standing up to clap in rhythm for the dance, compensating for the lost volume from Swift’s song.

It was a good example of what NLCS 10th grader, Collin Noll, said he hoped for earlier in the evening. “I’d like to see a chain reaction of kindness go throughout the world.”

To read the full story, see Setting sights on student success

The Youth Voice Survey

Who: 2,347 students from 11 schools from Bigfork to Remer, Floodwood to Deer River.

What: Questions asked about access to technology, confidence in learning at school, how much they participate in activities outside school, the presence of adults who are interested in and can help guide their lives, and feeling welcome in their community – elements of the Itasca area’s Pathway to Student Success.

When: Students were surveyed in September and October.

Why: To see how Itasca area communities are doing on elements of the Pathway to Student Success.

How to access survey results: Visit the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success

How to get involved: see Taking Action or contact Jaci David at 218-327-8705 or

To follow the social media conversation: #itascayouth