Solutions to close the opportunity gap for kids living in poverty are complicated. It takes collaboration to make the long-term investments that help our kids thrive and reach their full potential. Hutchinson Public Schools channels a local spirit of collaboration in two innovative programs to set up students of all economic backgrounds for success – TigerPath Academies and the REACH Program.
In Hutchinson, conversations around career pathways helped spark the development of TigerPath Academies in 2014. This public, private and nonprofit collaboration connects students to local businesses and exciting career options starting in ninth grade.
“Career readiness training needs to be intentional, and it needs to be available to all students,” said SWIF President and CEO Diana Anderson. “TigerPath is a great example of working together to provide our kids on-ramps to careers they find engaging, so they can be successful.”
Success in the new economy means a major shift in how high school students and their families prepare for the next step in their education, said Hutchinson’s economic development director, Miles Seppelt. In southwest Minnesota, less than 1 in 6 job openings require a bachelor’s degree or more, while 18 percent require vocational training or an associate degree, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
“It’s long been college, major, career. It should be career, major, college. It should be ‘What do I want to be in life? What are the skills I need?’” Miles Seppelt
Students choose a TigerPath Academy in ninth grade, and it guides them through “minds-on, hands-on” learning, said Hutchinson Schools Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden. The four TigerPath Academies are SCI HI (primarily health care), Business, Human services and STREAM (science, technology, manufacturing, etc.)
“We want to have kids apply their skills and experience to what they’ll do in a career,” Daron said.
Local businesses have supported the program with donations, materials, mentorships and internships. SWIF is one of 23 partners that financed the $1.2 million TigerPath Initiative, which includes an update to the career and technical education space at Hutchinson High School, now called the “Center for Technical Excellence.” Among other improvements, the new facilities have state-of-the-art machining and welding equipment. It’s at the center of a three-floor classroom wing, with the entire first floor dedicated as hands on “maker space.” Keeping up with industry will help students market themselves to area employers, many of which are advertising jobs that require skills training, not a four-year degree.
“Every manufacturer in town could hire people today if we had people with the right skills,” Miles said. “It’s not just degrees, it’s skills we need.”
Across Minnesota and the region, TigerPath’s model is generating interest. It won a League of Minnesota Cities 2017 City of Excellence Award and a 2018 workforce development award from the Mid-America Economic Development Council. But it’s our kids and the communities where they live, and eventually work, who will take home the real prize: When high school students explore all paths to success, not just four-year degrees, they can find a smooth transition from school to an engaging career.
“We want to get away from a one size fits all education,” Miles said. “Find your own path. Find the right fit.”
“Jacob is a fabulous kid, and a great worker,” Dean said. “I think it’s very valuable for students to get that work experience. Jacob will step into another job and he’ll be better off with whatever he’s learned here. For me, it’s a good way to give back.” Read more about Jacob and Dean
Encouragement within REACH
Focusing on the future is asking a lot of students who are struggling with personal challenges day-to-day. For kids who need support academically, socially or emotionally at Hutchinson High School, there’s REACH. It’s an elective class that helps students experience success by learning new life skills to overcome challenges. REACH works with students, families, counselors, administration and community to surround students and families with a network of support.
For HHS student Teddy, REACH was a lifesaver. Teddy’s mother has a history of severe mental illness, which made for an incredibly difficult home life, including moving around a lot. REACH gave her a sense of belonging.
“Someone has to teach you that you are valued and you are loved.” Teddy
Eleven years ago, Hutchinson School administrators looked at failure rates, dropout rates and students who could benefit from alternative instruction. With total failing grades in excess of 900 a year, something needed to be done. In 2011, the district decided to tap Chad Harlander, a local family counselor, to launch the REACH program at the Hutchinson High School. Ten years later, in 2017, failure rates had dropped to 132 and students enrolled in REACH were passing 92 percent of their classes.
The program’s success comes in part from a trauma-informed approach that looks at the whole student and acknowledges the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that is, traumatic experiences of abuse, neglect or household challenges like divorce and incarceration that occur before the age of 18.
Students in REACH take a modified version of the 10-question ACEs survey to assess cumulative childhood stressors with a score ranging from 0 to 10. ACE’s are common, with about 68 percent of adults having at least one. Studies show a higher ACE score increases a person’s risk of health and social problems such a substance abuse, chronic mental and physical health conditions, violence and being a victim of violence. Without supportive early intervention, adults with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers and seven times more likely to be alcoholic; they face increased risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and risk of attempted suicide by 1,200 percent.
People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years. Last year, nearly 70 percent of REACH students had an ACE score of 4 or more and 20 percent had a score of 8 or more.
Developmental research shows that having one caring adult in a child’s life increases the likelihood that child can flourish and become a productive adult. REACH is countering the effects of ACEs by teaching “the hope and the how”: Students, no matter what their ACE score, can build resilience and find success in all areas of their lives.
“If you’re familiar with trauma and the brain, the number one thing that can overcome some of that destructive trauma — trauma that comes from generational poverty, from chronic stress — is unconditional love. … We don’t often talk about love and loving our students, but that’s where the answer is,” said REACH teacher Rhoda Hubbard.
Across Minnesota and into South Dakota, more than 30 schools have a REACH program based on Hutchinson’s model. SWIF has awarded several grants to REACH to support its work, including funding a one-day Mental and Chemical Health Training for teachers throughout Minnesota.
“We’re providing funding for REACH and programs like it because southwest Minnesota’s future depends on Teddy and all of our kids getting what they need to succeed,” said SWIF Community Impact Director Nancy Fasching.
“I grew up in a home where I couldn’t go to school because my mother wouldn’t let me, and that’s why I work hard and am grateful for school,” Teddy said. “That’s why I’m where I am today. But it wasn’t easy—for a long time, I felt lost. This is why the REACH program matters to me. Every day, everywhere someone is lost just waiting to be found.”
These initiatives show how community collaboration can set our kids up for success, even in the face of challenges. What could that collaboration look like where you live? Call us at 800-594-9480 to request a local Grow Our Own presentation exploring challenges and opportunities in your community.