A Brooklyn Center school was treated to a visit this morning by Minnesota’s junior U.S. Senator in a special tour that touted the school’s various resources for students and their families.
Sen. Al Franken stopped by Brooklyn Center Secondary School to tour resource centers the school offers to its large population of low-income students and their families, such as an on-site health resource center and a family resource room, as well as to learn about the school’s afterschool and summer programs offered by its 21st Century Community Learning Center.
Franken, who serves on the Senate Education Committee and is co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Afterschool Caucus, has regularly advocated for the expansion of mental health services and retention of afterschool activities in American schools. Franken had previously expressed interest in personally seeing a full-service community school in the 21st Century Learning program, which was first administered by the state Department of Education in 2002, and offers enrichment opportunities to students before or after school, or during summer months.
According to BCS Principal Carly Jarva, the district was the first full-service community district to offer the program, which is the result of a federally-funded grant administered via the state Department of Education and the No Child Left Behind Act.
The program offers before- and afterschool tutoring, video production classes, dance programs, science and engineering classes, a bike club with the Brooklyn Center Police Department and a variety of athletics programs.
Franken met with program directors, including Patrice Howard, director of community schools and family engagement, and Stella Solas, family liaisons representative, and staff members of the school’s Get Ready college readiness program, as well as doctors and therapists in the Health Resource Center, which offers medical, dental, and mental health services to students and non-student Brooklyn Center youth.
Following the tour, Franken got an opportunity to learn about the program benefits from students. The senator sat down with students Jude Anan, Saphire Ghant, Stephanie Lee and Molubah Seley, along with Jarva, District Supt. Mark Bonine, and a select number of resource center staff and program directors. They discussed the effects the afterschool program, the benefits of the Health Resource Center, and the anxieties faced by many of the school’s students over new federal immigration policies.
“One of (Franken’s) explicit requests was (that) he definitely wanted to tour the spaces, but he wanted to connect with our students,” said Jarva after the visit. “He had expressed that he feels separate (from students) with a lot of his work, and to be able to hear about their school experience was key for him. I think that they were very nervous about speaking to Sen. Franken, but they did an amazing job.”
“It was good because it’s good for him to hear from kids, and it’s good for our students to be able to sit with a U.S. senator and actually be able to talk about what happens here and how it affects them,” added Bonine. “We’re thrilled that Sen. Franken is here, and he’s carrying the 21st Century bill at the federal level, and also supports community schools. Since we have the model that people come and request to see what this is all about, they come into Brooklyn Center High School.”
Franken later noted that the school has had “tremendous success” due in part to wraparound services like the 21st Century Community Learning Center and the on-site medical care.
“If you just look at a number in terms of graduation rates, they’ve gone (from) being below the average in the state to significantly above in just a number of years,” said Franken. “This school provides wraparound services for the students, and for the community as well.”
The senator was especially impressed with the options for students, and how the resources provided for students and their families were comprehensive and necessary.
“It all impressed me, and to some degree, it surprised me just how they kept it together here,” said Franken. “This is incredibly impressive and incredibly thoughtful. One of the things that did concern me wasn’t anything about the school itself, but was about … the anxiety that (federal immigration policies) have produced in certain communities. This is really affecting kids’ ability to learn, and it’s affecting their lives.”
The morning of Franken’s visit, the Trump Administration announced its proposal to slash the federal education budget by 14 percent. Franken believes that the success of programs such as the 21st Century Learning initiative would be a strong riposte to such wide-reaching proposals.
“I’m going to be fighting among the Education Committee in the Senate against the administration’s budget,” said Franken. “(Republican Senator from Alaska) Lisa Murkowski and I, together, put in the reform of No Child Left Behind, put in funds for 21st Century Learning Centers. The Trump budget zeroes that out. We’re not going to let that happen. That would be really stupid and wrong. This budget, in so many different areas, is very misguided.”
Bonine echoed the importance of the afterschool, family and medical resources offered to his district’s students.
“Just with the needs of students, having a one-stop shop and a beacon for the community where students and families feel comfortable… they can’t wait a week from Thursday to see a doctor, they can’t wait a week from Thursday to see a therapist,” said Bonine. “So having the services on-site and having people who can facilitate these opportunities for students and families is a great program to have.”
Contact Christiaan Tarbox at [email protected]