SPARK – from 2014 survey results to action

Imagine if youth in the Itasca Area felt valued and supported by all – family, school and community to reach their full potential.

In fact, a group of community members has been working to make that vision a reality.  The work began with a series of community conversations hosted by the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC – the seven area school districts and Itasca Community College) and Blandin Foundation that kicked off in 2009.  The series concluded with a shared aspiration: “to strive to provide equal opportunities for all children to succeed regardless of the barriers they may face.”

What does all this mean?  “What we learned from our conversations with the community is that we all need to – and we all want to –do more to support the success of our young people,” says Jaci David, Blandin Foundation Public Policy Program Officer.  “We’ve learned through this effort that youth need strong relationships with adults beyond their family, and SPARK is actively supporting groups that have connections to area youth and focus on relationships committed to youth success.”

Following the conversations, SPARK was established – a council of community members committed to the mission of ‘ensuring success for all Itasca Area youth in strong communities where all learn and thrive’.

“We have a team of community members, many who have been committed long term to this thoughtful work of finding ways to help all area youth succeed,” says David.  This group spent two years listening to and talking with community leaders to define youth-related priorities and in 2012 finalized a Pathway to Student Success, a visual representation of their aspirations for all youth.”

The SPARK council then began building awareness about and support for the Pathway and working in partnership with Search Institute, a Minneapolis-based research organization that for more than 50 years has studied assets youth need to succeed.  In 2014, more than 2,400 Itasca area youth in grades 7-12 added their voices to the work by completing the Youth Voice survey developed and implemented by Search.

From analysis of the survey, SPARK learned some key information to guide their work.  Most Itasca Area youth lack strong relationships with adults beyond their families.  The greatest gaps are for older youth and youth whose families have a hard time making ends meet.

Blandin Foundation

Jaci David, Blandin Foundation

Some percentages from the Youth Voice survey

  • On average 44 percent of Itasca Area youth report getting lots of encouragement from five or more adults other than their parents.  However, breaking down the numbers according to age shows 10-12-year olds say 51 percent versus age 16-18 record 37 percent.
  • An average of 51 percent of youth say they have adults who are good role models for them.  This is highest among 10-12-year-olds at 62 percent and age 16-18 at 44 percent.
  • Only 16 percent of Itasca are youth strongly agree that they matter to people in their town or community.

When youth have strong relationships with non-family adults such as coaches, teachers, counselors, faith community leaders, neighbors, mentors, employers and other adults they are more likely to:  Set personal learning goals, be committed to learning and wanting to do well in school, possess everyday workplace skills, and be confident in their academic abilities.