Growing up in Jacobson, I have always felt a deep connection to rural Minnesota. It’s the place I call home, despite spending the last five years in the Twin Cities. Last December when I had the opportunity to work as a paraprofessional at Vandyke Elementary, I didn’t hesitate to pack my bags and reinvest in northern Minnesota– the place I want to live, work, and contribute. Though I loved working at Vandyke, I wanted to take my education degree in a different direction; I found myself more drawn to community impact in the lives of young people.
Having a sense of community has always struck a chord in my own life. I grappled with growing up on the outer fringe of my school district; being from Jacobson, I went to McGregor High School (go Mercs!), but also participated in many events around the Grand Rapids Area. Yet, when people would ask me where I was from, I remained fiercely loyal to Jacobson– despite the typical follow-up question of, “where’s that??” As a young person, I often found myself divided between three communities, not always knowing where I fit in, and what my role was in contributing to my school and my home community. I still see this issue today amongst my own peers, many of whom are unsure of whether to remain in the community they grew up in and love, or move away to pursue jobs and new endeavors.
About a month ago, a friend sent me a link for an Americorps position with the Minnesota Alliance with Youth to work with the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success, and I knew it was a fit. Serving in this role, I have the chance to work with youth all across Itasca County to assess the results from the Youth Voice Student Survey. Much of the survey dealt with the connectedness youth feel towards their schools and communities. Going forward I will be talking with youth, educators, and community leaders about tangible action we can take to create more opportunities for youth, based on the survey data.
Since the release of the report, it is important that we as community members, educators, and youth advocates don’t let the energy of assessing the new data subside into impassivity. We must keep in mind we do not need to view the survey results as an indication of individual community success or failure, but instead use it as a platform to bring people of all ages together to discuss what directions we can take moving forward. For me, the survey results bring forth more questions than answers– which I don’t view as a bad thing. This window into the perceptions of area youth give us a unique opportunity to open discussion with youth and community members, so together we can come up with new ways to help our youth thrive and become the current and future leaders of Northern Minnesota. From Talmoon to Floodwood, Warba to Deer River it’s time to work both together and as individual communities to give our youth the voice they deserve.