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


Strong communities where all learn and thrive.

Our Story

SPARK began with a question – one that emerged from a series of community conversations in 2010: “How can we help all students in the Itasca area succeed?”  Since then, SPARK has grown into a data-driven, community-wide commitment to learning, in a quantitative way, what young people see, need, and desire.




In the fall of 2018, more than 3,000 6th-12th grade students from 11 Itasca-area public schools completed a new Youth Voice survey, designed and implemented by the Search Institute.  The survey tool was adapted from the 2014 tool based on extensive feedback from youth and community members and focuses on the developmental relationships of youth and the common threads of learning, connection, action, and impact.  


SPARK partners with the University of Minnesota Extension to hire a Community Engagement Coordinator to advance the goals of the Pathway in the greater Itasca area.  The Community Engagement Coordinator works to build relationships across the region and engage youth, allowing SPARK to more effectively match community resources with community needs.


The Itasca Networks for Youth, a network focused on the goal “Everyone will have access to:  High quality out-of-school programs and activities,” begins regular quality improvement planning with the support of University of Minnesota Extension and Ignite Afterschool.


What has 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.


The Core Team aligns action with the Minneapolis-based research organization, Search Institute, and the first Youth Voice survey is developed.  More than 2,400 Itasca area youth in grades 7 to 12 add their voices to the work by completing the survey.

Youth share their perspectives at a community meeting in November 2014.  More than 200 grassroots community leaders gather 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.

Groups with all kinds of connections to youth use 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 wrestles with youth’s candid sharing and how they see themselves showing up in, or absent from, the structures of community life.


The Core Team considers 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.  By working with leaders in Itasca area communities, the Core Team gathers and synthesizes youth-related priorities and publishes the Pathway to Student Success – a visual representation of their aspirations for all youth.


Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) and Blandin Foundation host a series of community conversations, engaging more than 100 people with the question: “How can we help all students in the Itasca area succeed?”  Inspired by the possibilities emerging from these conversations, a core team of people from across the Itasca area step forward to continue this work.