Program staff ask school district to invest $24K, while pursuing larger, 3-year grant for districts beyond Crookston.

    The staff of the University of Minnesota Crookston's Center for Adult Learning presented all kinds of facts and figures to the Crookston School Board this week as they sought a $24,000 school district investment to continue the Achieve More program at Highland and Crookston High schools, currently wrapping up its first year, for a second year.

    As part of the presentation, Highland Principal Lela Olson spoke highly of the program's elementary school component in her building, Junior Achievement, and CHS sophomore Ryan Porter told of the positive impact his trip last fall to the Northern Valley Career Expo had on his future career aspirations, a field trip for CHS sophomores to the Grand Forks Alerus Center that was organized and coordinated by Achieve More staff.

    But possibly the most impactful words praising the program, which also features College and Career Prep 101 for 7-12th graders at CHS, came from CHS senior McKaela Larson, who attended the board meeting with a handful of her classmates as part of course requirement that each student attend a public meeting.

    At the conclusion of the meeting, when board chair Frank Fee asked if anyone in the audience had any closing remarks, Larson asked the board to seriously consider the funding request to keep Achieve More around. Although she said she's always planned on going to college, Larson said it was discussions during lunch and on other occasions with Achieve More volunteers that helped her actually pick a college that she'll attend next fall. The interaction was invaluable, Larson said, adding that she wished it would have been available to her when she was younger.

    "The last couple years have been pretty overwhelming, with all these decisions we face," she said. "I urge you to keep Achieve More in the back of your mind as you plan for the future. It really helped me."
    A $25,000 Northwest Minnesota Foundation grant, through the Impact 20/20 initiative, secured by Center for Adult Learning Director Michelle Christopherson made the launch of Achieve More this year possible. But it's just a one year grant. Other than providing the bus to take the sophomores to the Career Expo, she said the school district has benefited from Junior Achievement and College and Career Prep 101 essentially free of charge. The program is delivered in partnership with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, the Crookston Chamber of Commerce and a host of individual volunteers.

    But, now, she's asking the board to invest in Achieve More's future, in the form of $24,000 for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The money would go toward a part-time staff person, adjunct instruction, a College in the High School course, and costs related to travel, evaluation, background checks for volunteers, an academy for principals, and the Junior Achievement curriculum. Christopherson identified a couple of current part-time CHS staff members, one of which could potentially be hired as the "go-to" person for Achieve More.

    Christopherson is looking to grow the program as well, and said the Fisher, Win-E-Mac and Fertile-Beltrami school districts are on board financially to bring the program to their schools next year.

    "This is just as important as hiring an athletic coach, a paraprofessional or lunch personnel," Christopherson told board members. "We believe this program has been a phenomenal success, with the impact we've had on these students, their parents and the school staff we've been engaging."

    UMC CAL is also seeking a $300,000 Otto Bremer Foundation grant to sustain the program for three more years in Crookston and in other districts. If the Crookston board comes up with the $24,000 but the larger grant request is not granted, Christopherson said Achieve More would continue for another year locally.

    There is legislation being proposed in St. Paul that would require districts to engage students as young as eighth grade on the types of topics that Achieve More engages them on, Christopherson said. Although she agreed with board member  Keith Bakken when he said the board, if a mandate came from St. Paul, could provide such engagement in any fashion it wanted, without partnering with the U of M Crookston, Christopherson said CAL staff would like an opportunity to "build on the momentum" that's been built this year.

    During his portion of the presentation, Porter said he was able to get all kinds of hands-on exposure to a variety of careers at the expo last October, and at one of Achieve More's "Parents Night" event, he and his parents learned important details on topics ranging from taking the ACT test, to dorm life in college.

    Janessa DeBoer, UMC CAL's lead person on Achieve More, said surveys of school district staff and students who have been exposed to Achieve More are overwhelmingly supportive, and that they'd like to see it continue.

    "This is a program that is getting desired results," she said.

    Fee said the board would try to get some word to Christopherson and her staff within a couple weeks.