Creating Connections - Minnesota Alliance With Youth-Promise Fellows

Nearly 1 in 5 Minnesota high school students (18%) drop out before graduation and, as a result, are likely to experience lifelong negative consequences including unemployment and poverty. The dropout rates for students of color and low income students are dramatically higher, resulting in some of the worst achievement gaps in the nation.

Because youth cite many reasons for leaving school, the solution to the dropout problem is unique to each student. Unfortunately, struggling students may go unnoticed in the classroom until it’s too late, and the typical school day leaves little room for the individual attention many students need.

Minnesota Alliance With Youth-Promise Fellows step in to provide much needed support for students who are on a trajectory for dropping out. These AmeriCorps members work with youth in grades 6-10, starting early to reverse the course and get students on track for on-time graduation. Promise Fellows focus on helping young people overcome challenges with the ABCs: attendance, behavior, and core academics. As Promise Fellow Justine Deutschlander says, “It is our job to make sure they grow up to be fine individuals.”

Justine served her third year as a Promise Fellow at Proctor High School. Throughout the day, students dropped by her office to talk about specific issues and meet during scheduled check-ins. Weekly check-ins are designed for students to self-evaluate on personal and academic progress and set new goals. Justine says that while she often gave advice, the majority of her time was spent listening to students. “Often they just need someone to talk to, so I tried my best to make myself available,” she says. Justine made sure her students completed missing assignments and worked with them on specific interventions to help them reach their full potential.

Promise Fellows build caring relationships with their students and provide the resources needed to make positive changes. Justine recalls many positive adult role models who made an impact on her life and strove to be a role model for her students, as a caring adult her students could turn to with personal issues. In additional to providing academic support, Justine also linked her students to service projects and afterschool activities. She says, “I have formed many relationships throughout the community, made an impact on students beyond what I thought possible, and have learned the importance of a positive, caring adult in a young person’s life.”

The time and dedication Promise Fellows offer youth in need leads to noticeable results. For example, one of Justine’s students tripled his GPA in six months. Progress was initially slow, but after gaining his trust, Justine says he began participating in service projects, improved his attendance and behavior, and became a leader for his fellow classmates. She recommended him for the Minnesota Alliance With Youth Red Wagon Award which honors Minnesota students in grades 6-12 who have shown resilience to achieve academic gains, demonstrate leadership, and become involved in their community. Justine says the award “helped give him the confidence to continue to excel in school.” 

Each year, about 200 Promise Fellows like Justine are placed in schools, school districts, government agencies, and community organizations across the state. Since 1997, Promise Fellows have used research-based approaches to help more than 170,000 youth significantly improve their academic, social, and emotional outcomes. Yet, the need is still great. Justine encourages others to join her in service to youth, saying, “Not every student has a positive person in their life. It just takes one person to make an impact.”