The Minnesota Department of Education through its program named “The Choice is Yours” has made it possible for parents to choose schools for their children where they feel they can perform better and achieve better grades. This program is intended to help low-income Minnesota families to attend suburban schools where they can improve their academic achievement and increase their interactions with diverse groups.
Sources from the Department of Education say the program is geared to assist low- income families and students who receive free and/or reduced priced lunches. At the end of the day, the program hopes to see students performing well in schools and embracing the opportunity to attend good schools, improve their academic achievement and increase their interactions with diverse groups.
To learn more about this program and how parents can access its benefits, Mshale spoke to the Minnesota Department of Education’s Bondo Nyembwe, the Program Administrator for School Choice and Marquita Wagner, the program’s Outreach Coordinator:
Mshale: Can you give us the meat on what this program is all about?
MDE: The Choice Is Yours is a program that gives low-income Minneapolis families more options to attend suburban schools. The students must meet the following qualifications: must be a MPLS student, families must live in Minneapolis; families must also qualify for free and/or reduced lunch. The students who meet these requirements upon enrollment will receive free transportation to and from suburban schools, priority placement, choice of Magnet and suburb schools, and must apply by January 15th.
Mshale: What are its objectives?
MDE:Enhance educational opportunity for urban and sub-urban families. (Families are given a choice to select the best school for children before January 15th)
…Support parents in choosing the best schools for their children. Two Parent Information Centers are located in North Minneapolis and South Minneapolis and provide individual and group school tours. These tours will be to urban, suburban, and charter schools, Conduct outreach activities to promote school choice options and the services of the centers.
….Support student’s success in school. Provide the support families need as they make the transition to the school of their choice and provide tutoring services for students participating in the project. These services will be available year round; after school, on Saturdays, and during the summer.
Mshale: Is it an on-going thing or something new being experimented upon?
MDE: The Choice Is Yours is not a new initiative this year nor an experiment. The TCIY program has been in existence since 2001 and was created as a result of an Education Adequacy lawsuit. The successes of this program have been rampant as the program has grown from 472 students in 2002 to 1435 in 2005. We are expecting a continued growth this year. Other successes of the program include, 52% of TCIY come from near north or North MPLS, 2/3 of students who enrolled in TCIY programs returned the following year, 95% of TCIY parents would recommend the program to others, 58% have recommended TCIY, 2 out of 3 parents may choose another school if there is no transportation (Minnesota Voluntary Public School Choice Evaluation Report 2004-05)
Mshale: What kind of problems or shortcomings in the existing educational system is being addressed by this program?
MDE: As described above in the goals section, The Choice Is Yours strives to give low income student access to a quality education. There is a need to increase and maintain communication with families of these students. Parent can call the Minnesota Department of Education with any questions regarding the program. There is a hotline number 1-877-766-5485. In doing so parents are advised on whom to talk to at the school in order to satisfy their needs. We advocate for fairness and quality education for all students.
Who is being targeted to benefit from this program?
MDE: The Program benefits low-income Minneapolis families and students who receive free and/or reduced priced lunches.
Mshale: At the end of the day, what does the program hope to achieve?
MDE: The Choice Is Yours Program hopes to see students performing well in school and embracing the opportunity to attend good schools, improve their academic achievement and increase their interactions with diverse groups. At the same time, we hope to depict school engagement through a combination of supplemental academic support and professional development for suburban school staff to meet the needs of a diverse student population.
Mshale: I have seen posters on T-Metro Buses displaying this program, but there are no detailed explanations on what it entails, how do you propose to reach out to the general public to ensure that all interested parties are informed about the program?
MDE: The Minnesota Department of Education has increased its effort to reach MPLS families by engaging in a plethora of events. The MN department of Education has hired an outreach specialist who conducts meetings in the community with various non-profit agencies, employment centers, youth programs and community centers. In addition the outreach specialist will host two roundtable discussions entitled How to choose your child’s school. The first roundtable will take place at the Brian Coyle Center on December 2, 2006 from 12:00-1:30. The second roundtable will take place at the Parent Information Center in North Minneapolis in early February. The MN department of Education has DVD, VHS, posters and brochures that have been mailed out to families and various agencies including churches throughout the metro. The MDE is running advertisements on radio and TV. The Choice Is Yours posters can also be seen on various Metro transit buses light rail. These advertising campaigns began in September and run until February 2007. For information on the program, please contact Marquita Wagner at 651-582-8369 or email [email protected] and request a form and information about the program can be mailed to your house.
Mshale: Who is sponsoring this initiative and where do the funds come from?
MDE: The Minnesota Department of Education is the lead Agency in this initiative. In 2002, The Minnesota Department of Education and three partners, the West Metro Education Program (WMEP), Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), and the Minneapolis Parent Information Centers, Inc (MPIC) applied for a federal grant Voluntary Public School Choice (VPSC) to expand the highly successful The Choice Is Yours Program. WMEP provide academic support to students and MPIC, Inc provides school choice support to parents. This is the last year of the grant.
Mshale: Is there a parallel program like this in other states from where we are picking a leaf?
MDE: Many other states have school choice programs. Because of the laws in each state, these programs operate differently but serve the same objectives, offering school choice options to families. 13 other states received the Voluntary Public School Choice grant in 2002 and are expanding choice options for families in their respective states.
Mshale: Why is this program being introduced now?
MDE: The program is not new. The Choice Is Yours Program began with the 2001-2002 school year. Throughout the years different intra and inter district marketing strategies have been utilized to create awareness of this program. The Welcome Center in Minneapolis informs parents of their school choice options. The West Metro Education Program through its 11 joints power members provides support for The Choice Is Yours students. The Choice Is Yours program is an effort to implement choice options for families and is supported by Minnesota state Statutes.
Mshale: The goal to provide quality education for all children including the leave no child behind initiative is a long road to travel; can you take me through the long-term strategy to attain these noble goals?
MDE: The Choice Is Yours program is not competing against any other programs. It is an additional option offered to parents to exercise their choice in selecting a school. It is important to know that parents voluntarily choose to select a school of their choice for their child. Once a student has enrolled in a magnet or suburban school, he is then counted as a student of that school district. He is not superior or inferior to any other students and must be treated as such. The Choice Is Yours students engage in the same educational opportunities as other students. It is the responsibility of each receiving school district to guide and meet the federally mandated “No Child Left Behind”. Many Choice students are provided with extra tutoring opportunities at their school sites, thus enabling them to perform well or catch up where they have fallen behind.