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Northfield’s Promise to Young People

“I Promise…”

At each table in the Great Hall at Carleton College was a poster board with those two words, asking attendees at the Dec. 9 Northfield Grad Summit to think about what they could do to help provide better opportunities for success for the young people of Northfield, Minnesota.

The summit, which was convened by the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative, continued in that spirit of thinking through responsibility, relationships, and action steps, as the Northfield community examines how to better align its various stakeholders and interests in the common goal of seeing improved outcomes for young people.

“The time and effort we invest have to make a difference. It’s not the sort of thing you can put numbers on, but I think it’s making an incremental difference,” said John Stenz, local businessman and chairman and CEO of FORCE America in a breakout session on the role of local employers.

Home to both St. Olaf College and Carleton College, Northfield has the reputation of an idyllic small college town. A diversifying student population and a growing need to better equip students to enter the local workforce has the community thinking about the way it approaches high school graduation rates in a way that collaborates with different industries.

As a result, there is a growing effort on behalf of the business community to better integrate students into the workforce through programs like internships and externships. This extends all the way to the city government office.

“With the budget process for 2017, the city council approved four internships for next summer within our municipal government,” Michelle Mahowald, Communications and Human Resources Manager for the City of Northfield informed the audience. “They will be seven weeks long and interns will be paid $12/hour,”  

The perspective of young people was also emphasized. “One of the best ways we can support youth is to take the time to listen to them and hear their perspectives,” said Mark Ensrud, school counselor at Northfield High School.

Sharing her perspective, Julia Knutson, recent Northfield Schools and TORCH program graduate noted the importance of relationships.

“All the ways I was able to get involved and my relationships with my friends and teachers helped me stay in school,” Knutson said. “They helped me figure out school.”

In the summit’s culminating event, participants formed small groups to develop action plans based around how to better prepare Northfield’s students for successful futures. These plans were then eligible for $10,000 in seed funding to put these plans into action.

In that regard, the summit wasn’t just about making promises. It was also about making plans.

America’s Promise Alliance is working with community partners across the country to host 100 community summits through March 2017. This initiative is part of its GradNation goal to reach a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020.

Each community summit convenes multi-sector leaders to identify challenges facing young people in their communities and develop strategies to address them. To learn more, visit GradNation community summits.