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A promise to help students succeed

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A local organization is doing what it can to make sure that Hastings' students get to the stage in their caps and gowns on time.

Americorps' Promise Fellows program works to help kids all over Minnesota have the tools that they need to succeed in school and later on in life.

The program, which has been running in Hastings for around 10 years, has been built from the bottom up — originally starting with one Promise Fellow in the schools and are now up to five.

"The overall Minnesota graduation rate is hovering around 82 percent, but there are still wide disparities," Kori Redepenning, CEO of the Minnesota Alliance with Youth, said. "We want to help all students have the same chance to graduate on time."

Historically, Promise Fellows helps students in grades 6-10 who are showing early signs of getting off track for graduation.

The program looks at three indicators, known as their ABCs, to decide whether or not a child is in need of help from Promise Fellows: Attendance, behavior and course performance. These factors, Redeppening said, are the largest in determining whether a student will fall behind in school.

The program works with students in both one-on-one and group settings. It is the organization's goal that each volunteer helps support at least 30 students, according to Redepenning.

The fellows act as supportive adults to their students and offer service and out-of-school supports as well. For example, a volunteer might call home to check in on a child if she is absent from school, connect children with volunteer opportunities, or help encourage them to participate in after-school activities, such as sports or clubs.

"The Promise Fellows build strong relationships with the students, and the students say that the big piece for them is having a caring adult to support them," Redepenning said.

The Promise Fellows program in Hastings is looking for new volunteers for the 2018-2019 school year. For more information, visit www.mnyouth.net.

Uniquely Hastings

Although the Americorps' Promise Fellows program is run all over Minnesota, many aspects of the Hastings' Promise Fellows make it stand out from all the rest.

Unlike most other Promise Fellows programs across the state, Hastings Promise Fellows has a class time dedicated for students to work with their volunteers, whether it's getting homework done or playing games.

"I think it's pretty different here. A lot of other people still have to pull students out of their classes to meet with them. We have a specific class, which is Student Impact," Abbie Williams, a fellow working out of Hastings Middle School, said. "It's built in to their schedule that they work with us everyday. It's really helpful."

For Student Impact, each Promise Fellow has a list of students that he or she help look out for in terms of attendance and school performance, Williams said. However, that doesn't mean that they only focus on the students on their list.

"Sometimes you get students, and yes they are on my focus list, but maybe they had a better connection with (another Promise Fellow), or vise versa," Williams said. "It's really collaborative. We have students where we are in charge of tracking their information, but we work well as a group to support all students throughout the year."

The class is meant to offer students with the support they need, whether it is academic or more personal.

"There is a different reason for every kid. Some kids just need someone to support them and that is it. They can do the homework on their own and they come to school. They just need someone to care. Other kids might struggle academically and they need extra help in math, or science, or reading," Williams said.

It takes a village

Another thing, according to Williams, that sets them apart from other programs in the state, is that they get a lot of support from the school district administration as well as members of the community.

"So a lot of other Promise Fellows maybe struggle with finding students to work with in general, but also struggle to get different opportunities for their students, whereas in Hastings its set up pretty nicely for us already," Williams said.

"The collaborations in the community have been very important to the success of the program," said Mark Zuzek, former principal at HMS and an avid leader of he Promise Fellows program.

Fellows also work closely with Hastings Community Education, YMCA, United Way of Hastings and Hastings High School. "Those four are really rich resources for us. In exchange, our fellows help in their agencies. I think it is a really rich program because of that influence," Zuzek said.

These organizations meet with the Promise Fellow team once a month, according to Lane Underdahl, another Promise Fellow at the middle school.

"They have ideas for us and things they want help with, but are also there to listen to our ideas," Underdahl said.

Offering safe spaces

Other than personal and academic support, the Promise Fellows Hastings with Student Impact offers a safe place within the school, for students to come.

"I think part of our success is having a classroom so that they have a safe space to come to," Underdahl said.

The current Promise Fellows have seen the impact first hand that they can have on a students life, Underdahl said. Even for those that don't necessarily enjoy having to show up for Student Impact, they still have a place where they know they can decompress during a stressful day at school. As long as their work is completed, they get to spend the hour playing games and building connections.

"They all get something out of it. For some students, its a place to come cool down, and for others they come all the time. They stop in to say hi before they go home and tell us how their day was. That's pretty cool," Underdahl said.

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