Drive community engagement to ensure success for all Itasca Area youth.


Strong communities where all learn and thrive.


In 2010, the Itasca Area School Collaborative (IASC) and Blandin Foundation hosted a series of community conversations engaging more than 100 people in the question: “How can we help all students in the Itasca area succeed?” At the end of the series, a core team of people from across the Itasca Area stepped forward to continue the work.

Imagine what it would mean if all students, regardless of where they are learning, felt valued and supported by all – family, school and community – to reach their full potential! This is thoughtful work. The Core Team spent the next two years talking with community leaders in Itasca area communities to gather and synthesize youth-related priorities across the region. In fall 2012, the Core Team used this input to finalize A Pathway to Student Success – a visual representation of their aspirations for all youth.

From there, the group began building awareness about and support for the Pathway and identifying indicators used to align action, in partnership with Search Institute, a Minneapolis-based research organization that for more than 50 years has studied assets youth need to succeed.

In fall 2014, more than 2,400 Itasca area youth in grades 7 to 12 added their voices to the work by completing the Youth Voice survey developed and implemented by Search.

Youth shared those perspectives at a community meeting in November 2014. More than 200 grassroots community leaders gathered to hear the survey results, think about how the findings could impact their work or personal life, and commit to using the results to strengthen Itasca area communities in their efforts to provide the supports youth need to succeed.

Since then, groups with all kinds of connections to youth have used the data: Boys and Girls Clubs. Key Club. Boy Scouts. Youth sports associations. Faith-based programs like Youth for Christ. The county juvenile justice system. High school social studies teachers. Each has wrestled with youth’s candid sharing how they see themselves showing up in, or absent from, the structures of community life.

Spring 2016 has brought another cycle of renewal. What had been known as “the Student Success work” is now known as “Spark” – a generous brand developed in response to focus groups, that gives the work both a strong identity and ability to encompass youth-focused work in all aspects of community.

Using data to drive change is complex, and new. Yet this community-wide, multi-sector commitment to learning, in a quantitative way, what young people see, need and desire has paid multiple dividends. Committing to data-driven change together, as a region, not only has galvanized work to make progress on elements of the Pathway. It has revitalized the Itasca area’s commitment to being a vibrant, rural Minnesota community.

Guiding Principles
Achieving Spark’s vision requires a commitment to sustained, aligned and long-term effect. In support of that commitment, the Spark Council is guided by eight Principles of the Spark.