By Kim Horner, August guest blogger
Ten years ago, there was a rumor circulating that no Latino male had ever graduated from Northfield High School. Though inaccurate, this rumor was a little too close to reality. From 2001-2004, only 15 Latino students graduated from Northfield Public Schools while 27 dropped out — a graduation rate of 36%. During that time, fewer than five of Northfield’s Latino graduates pursued post-secondary education.
In response to these alarming facts, a group of Northfield educators and community members gathered together and decided to make a change. With funding from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, the group launched a program called TORCH (Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes) in 2005. The original goal of TORCH was to improve the graduation rate of Latino students in Northfield; and it worked. Within three years, the Latino graduation rate had risen above 90%. Because of this success, TORCH has expanded programming to all low-income students, students of color, and students who would be the first in their family to attend college.
Broadly, TORCH focuses on providing students with academic and social support, career and post-secondary exploration, as well as leadership and volunteer opportunities. But the foundation of TORCH’s success is relationships with students and their families. TORCH started small, with just a handful of students, and the staff invested time into getting to know the students’ abilities, challenges and aspirations. Rather than creating blanket programming to act as a Band-Aid, TORCH staff was and is committed to providing support specific to individual student needs and opportunities specific to individual student interests.
Take Yovany and Erick for example: Yovany, a rising senior, used the support of TORCH to complete two PSEO courses through Riverland Community College this past year, served on the TORCH Youth Advisory Board and Latino Students for School Policy Change team and is attending Itasca Community College Engineering Camp this summer. Erick, a rising junior, was encouraged by TORCH staff to apply and serve on RALIE, a school leadership board, plays varsity soccer, and is serving with other TORCH students as an elementary school mentor through the Northfield PLUS program this summer. With the support of TORCH, both students have grown over the past year, and are continuing to develop an understanding of their interests and talents. Perhaps most importantly, providing Erick, Yovany and all students with opportunities specific to their interests, fosters engagement; and that is critical to student success in the classroom and beyond.
Next year, TORCH will be serving more than 450 students in grades 6-12 as well as more than 150 alumni. While TORCH is excited to be serving a greater number of students, we know it will be a busy year as one-on-one relationships and interventions remains of critical importance to the program and to student’s success. Ultimately, it is also our hope that one day TORCH will be unnecessary, because the type of support we provide has become systemic, and students from all backgrounds are successful.
What are other examples of programs that have helped students succeed? Please share them in a comment to this post.