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Integration effort recognized in annual Kids Count report

WILLMAR -- The West Central Integration Collaborative has been recognized for its work to help young people choose healthier lifestyles.

The collaborative is listed among the "Stars of the State" in the 2010 Kids Count Data Book from the Children's Defense Fund of Minnesota.

The Kids Count book is released each year. It's a compilation of data to indicate the well-being of children in the state. It often highlights the status of children of color or those from low-income backgrounds.

The report look at achievement gaps, at teen birth rates and at levels of poverty around the state.

The 2010 report, "Every Kid Counts: Taking a Closer look at Children of Color and American Indian Children," found that the gaps in access to resources in Minnesota are among the largest in the nation.

This year, the CDF added something new -- reports on nine organizations that have been successful in helping Minnesota kids. A page in the report is devoted to each of the organizations.

The West Central Integration Collaborative has been honored for its efforts to improve graduation rates in area schools and to help students learn to make healthy choices in their lives. It serves eight school districts in west central Minnesota.

Idalia "Charly" Leuze, director of the collaborative, said Friday that she was pleased to have the positive recognition included in the annual report, to blunt the depressing news it often contains.

"I think there are programs and agencies in the communities that are doing the best they can with what we have," she said. "I thought it was very wise of them to do that."

The page about the collaborative credits its summer youth program and its after-school SMART Club with helping youths make positive health choices and keeping them in high school.

According to the report, 15 percent of Hispanic students graduated from high school in 1995. In 2007, about 76 percent of Hispanic students graduated from high school.

The collaborative has shown that mentoring programs do work, Leuze said. "We can't have these kids dropping out of school."

Other organizations honored in the Kids Count report include the White Earth Early Childhood Initiative of White Earth, Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota, Southside Unit of St. Cloud, and Admission Possible of the greater Twin Cities.

The Children's Defense Fund launched its 2010 Kids Count book earlier this month. Representatives will be conducting meetings around the state until November to discuss individual county statistics.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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