Community Leader Spotlight: Minnesota Alliance With Youth
January 18, 2018
“If the success of our efforts is tracked by numbers, we have lost the point completely and our children feel it. Before data, graphs, and systems there were relationships and community.”
Alexis Goffe, GradMinnesota Director for Minnesota Alliance with Youth, learned this lesson when a student confided that some teachers seemed to care more about tracking attendance than the actual student. His work with GradMinnesota, an initiative between the Minnesota Alliance with Youth, the Office of the Governor, and the Minnesota Department of Education aims to increase Minnesota’s high school graduation rate by focusing on equity, quality, and collaboration.
America’s Promise talked to Goffe about his state’s effort to create a GradNation for all young people and the important role of caring adult relationships in this work. Take a look at his thoughts below.
How does your work help create a GradNation for all?
While I graduated high school in Jamaica, I did not graduate “on time” from my college in Minnesota. Winters in Minnesota, a drastically different academic system, and being one of a few black students in my classes were challenging.
I became severely depressed, was placed on academic probation, took a semester off, and was eventually suspended in my junior year. This experience shaped my ten-year career as an educator. It crystallized not just the importance of high school graduation, but how critical it is to prepare students for postsecondary paths.
Having worked in school buildings and been involved in legislative advocacy, I frequently felt the disconnect between the experiences of those who worked in schools and at the policy level. This disconnect sometimes led to a breakdown in collaborative efforts, even with the best of intentions.
GradMinnesota strives to bridge the divide, guided by the belief that everyone has a complementary role to play. We work with the hardworking, often undervalued people that serve students every day and those in policy work, who together share the vision of Minnesota’s students graduating high school and being prepared for post-secondary success.
What successes in your community are you most proud of?
In my first month as a school administrator in Minnesota, there was a fight in a classroom involving four students. One student punched another student, causing the student to have a bloody nose. The students and some of the staff in the school expected that this fight would result in the student being suspended or expelled. But instead, the four students took part in a restorative process which ended in a circle to repair harm for all the students involved. Access to education was not denied and the students were back at school full-time after three days.
As child development research predicted, the student who caused the bloody nose had a few other incidents throughout the school year. However, a restorative approach was requested each time. The student is on-track to graduate this year. Had we involved law enforcement, she may have been charged which would have disqualified her from working in early childhood education, her dream. Recently, she told me that we gave her no other option but to believe that we were on her side.
This story is one of many from the growing community I am a part of that believes exclusionary practices do not work but accountability based in relationships, learning, and radical love does.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?
During a discussion with 9th and 10th graders, we were listening to the students’ views on the relationships they had with teachers and one student said a teacher “cared about attendance more than he cared about me.” It’s easy to get caught up in numbers to ensure we achieve 90 percent graduation.
However, if the success of our efforts is tracked by numbers, we have lost the point completely and our children feel it. Before data, graphs, and systems there were relationships and community.
What principles guide your work in education and youth development?
I had an interview with a principal who was interested in hiring a trainer for their schools. He said, “You keep saying you’re not an expert.”
“I’m not an expert,” I replied, “I’m a human being.”
He responded, “If you’re not an expert, why should I hire you?”
I said, “To work with you in realizing that you’re a human and not an expert too.”
Describe what makes your work unique in three words or phrases.
On January 11, 2018, the restorative justice community lost one of our greatest treasures, Alice Lynch. She and I spent nearly every day sharing an office while I was the dean of students at Paladin Career and Technical High School. Ms. Alice used to say this to the students who would be constantly sent to our office:
“ I still love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Then she’d hug them.
The 5 Promises represent conditions children need to achieve adult success. The collective work of the Alliance involves keeping these promises to America’s youth. This article relates to the promises highlighted below: