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Students and others talk of the benefits of integration initiatives

Carrie Adams, who works as a counselor at Worthington Middle School, addresses an audience Tuesday at a forum in Willmar on integration collaboratives. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- The two juniors from Worthington High School stood on the stage of the theater at Kennedy Elementary School and described the effect the Nobles County Integration Collaborative has had on their lives.

They have gone on college visits, gotten help with homework and learned leadership skills, said Ananaya Alwal. Both girls said they were from large, single-parent families.

"We feel that without the collaborative, we wouldn't be as motivated," said Apoman Abella.

The staff members of Nobles County Integration Collaborative "are there all the time," Alwal said. "Now, we have a broader future to look forward to."

The girls and more than 50 other people attended a listening session conducted by a task force of the Minnesota School Integration Council. The task force is preparing a report for the Minnesota Legislature to describe what integration collaboratives are doing for students across the state.

Becky Marquez, an employee of the West Central Integration Collaborative who works in the BOLD School District, welcomed the group by speaking about the goals of collaboratives.

They were developed by the state to address the needs of school districts that have much larger minority populations than surrounding districts. They provide services to all districts that are members.

Collaborative programs can include foreign language classes in elementary schools and school success coordinators to help struggling students stay on track to finish high school. They teach students in member districts about different cultures and about respect for others.

People who testified at the session came from as far away as Worthington and Pelican Rapids. The work of the integration collaboratives has increased parental involvement for minorities and has helped keep a cross-section of students in school, they said.

They listed some barriers to their work, particularly transportation to bring students from different rural districts together for activities.

In a small-group discussion, participants talked about programs offered in different collaboratives and shared their personal stories. "I can say I wouldn't be speaking English if the collaborative wasn't there," one young man said.

Several also raised the issue of disparate funding.

The first integration collaboratives were in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. They are allowed more money per pupil unit than the rural collaboratives which were created later. Collaborative funding comes from state aid and also from local property taxes in member districts.

The Minnesota School Integration Council organized the task force after the Legislature failed to pass funding for a state task force to study integration.

The group has held a series of listening sessions around the state and will deliver its report to the Legislature in January. Area members of the statewide task force include Willmar Mayor Les Heitke, New London-Spicer Superintendent Paul Carlson and community representative Margie Aranda.

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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