Partner for Student Success: Data-Driven Literacy Support for Multilingual Learners

Partner for Student Success (PFSS) isn’t one more organization serving youth, but a way to partner up with and harness already-existing organizations in service of the youth of St. Cloud, Minnesota. That’s important, because many of the youth in this sector struggle with literacy, coming from multilingual backgrounds. If our youth are to succeed in school and in life, mastery of the English language is crucial, which is why we were glad to support PFSS with one of our small grants.

We spoke with Partner for Student Success Director of Education Partnerships Amy Trombley to learn more about this work:

Kars4Kids: Tell us about the population you serve?

Amy Trombley: With this grant we aim to serve our multilingual learner population that needs support and development with literacy in the English language. Minnesota has the largest Somali-refugee population in the country with a large percentage that have settled in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Kars4Kids: You don’t develop or execute programs, but work with others who do. Can you explain how this works?

Amy Trombley: There are many amazing programs in our community that support youth. We work with these programs to figure out how to best align their programs to support utilization of the same curriculum that the area school district uses to support multilingual literacy development. Through grants like this, we are able to support and coordinate training and development opportunities, and supply books and resources to these partnering organizations.

PFSS event

Kars4Kids: Can you tell us a bit about your early childhood network?

Amy Trombley: The Early Childhood Network we support and facilitate brings players from many sectors of the community that work with and/or support early childhood initiatives and early childhood families. Individuals from local school districts, child care centers, county programs, health care, and higher education institutions come together on a regular basis to discuss how each individual organization effort can best support the other work of agencies with a focus on collective impact and utilizing data to best define needs and determine strategies to root causes of those needs.

Kars4Kids: What are some of the topics you’ve presented in your traveling presentations to childcare providers?

Amy Trombley: Topics that have been shared include data presentations to inform communities about the needs for quality child care and how they could be involved. We have also presented on the importance of family involvement and the demands of access to child care.

Volunteer helps young PFSS student with his reading

Kars4Kids: How long as PFSS been in operation? Do you have children that have progressed through your system from start to finish?

Amy Trombley: Partner for Student Success started in 2010 within the St. Cloud Area School District and has grown to three total school districts and their communities. In 2019, PFSS officially joined forces with United Way of Central Minnesota to best provide supports and collective strength to best meet the educational needs of our community. Since we have only been in existence for ten years, we haven’t seen system-wide transformation, which takes time, but we have seen great progress and collaboration across our communities in support on student success.

Kars4Kids: You have three focus groups for your K-8 Network: Free/Reduced Lunch, African American and Somali American. What topics are they grappling with?

Amy Trombley: These three focus groups were broken out based on a community-wide data driven process to identify the most pressing needs in our community. Through that process, we identified gaps in academic and/or social/emotional success, and then worked to determine root causes for those gaps and potential solutions to tackle.

  1. Somali American: Our Somali American population shows strong social/emotional skill sets and assets. Their academic success scores have large proficiency gaps. We identified root causes to this including literacy development and lack of understanding of the American schooling system.
  2. African American: Our African American population has gaps in both academic and social/emotional learning. Identified root causes include lack of positive identity development and systemic barriers. We are working to provide additional training and supports around these root causes.
  3. Free/Reduced Lunch: The economic disadvantages our students are faced with result in gaps in academic and Social/Emotional scores. Identified root causes include lack of access and the need for greater systems collaboration to provide supports.Partner for Student Success presentation

Kars4Kids: Tell us about some of the achievements of PFSS.

Amy Trombley: Recently United Way of Central Minnesota – Partner for Student Success received a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant to provide resources and supports to many of the gap stated above.

In our initial pilot data in aligning school day multilingual learner curriculum with out-of-school day partners, we found that students typically grew in their literacy skills about 1.5X faster than ‘average’ rates.

Kars4Kids: Can you talk about the PFSS career and post-secondary readiness network?

Amy Trombley: Similar to our Early Childhood Network, we support and facilitate brings players from many sectors of the community that work with and/or support career and college readiness initiatives. Individuals from business/industry, local school districts, higher education institutions, economic development partners, and youth-serving community organizations, come together on a regular basis to discuss how each individual organization effort can best support the other work of agencies with a focus on collective impact and utilizing data to best define needs and determine strategies to root causes of those needs.

Another one of our big successes, that many have a hand in across our community is support a community-wide event called EPIC – Exploring Potential Interests and Careers. It is a hands-on career fair that engaged over 3,300 high school students from 29 different school. You can learn more at epic-mn.comPartner for Student Success (PFSS) presentation

Kars4Kids: The peer network connecting 9th graders with seniors for support during the transition year is interesting. Can you talk about that? How does that work?

Amy Trombley: This initiative has been embraced by local school districts. Each district has best personalized programming for their unique needs with the goal of providing continued touchpoints throughout the year to provide students guidance, support and creating a sense of community while inspiring leadership within the older students.

Kars4Kids: What’s next for Partner for Student Success?

Amy Trombley: We continue to strive to be data-informed and working with the entire community to looks at cradle to career outcomes. As we continue to evolve, we hope to bring about systems change in reducing disparities for our students. We will continue to work hard for success cradle to career. A few items that are on the horizon that are being explored include:

  1. A mobile learning center for early childhood that brings resources, activities and expertise into communities to remove access barriers and provide family literacy and enrichment.
  2. Expanding our literary work to also support family literacy in alignment with the district based on the many adults in our communities that also face barriers to learning the English language.
  3. A virtual career exploration experience that sends students text messages about local businesses and opportunities to follow a unique path based on a desired career.
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