Project SPIRIT provides high-dosage, culturally specific K-5 programming at 4 elementary schools in Saint Paul.

By Randi Ilyse Roth, Executive Director

Greater Twin Cities United Way (GTCUW) had to make reductions to its expected funding levels for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. As part of the cuts, GTCUW categorically eliminated funding for literacy-related work in the kindergarten through 5th grade age group (K-5).

Let’s put a spotlight on what that cut means to our community. We can look at it through the lens of two of Interfaith Action’s programs for which United Way rescinded its 2017-18 contracts: Project SPIRIT and American Indian Youth Enrichment.

Project SPIRIT provides high-dosage, culturally specific K-5 programming five days per week, three hours per day, in four high-poverty, largely African-American Saint Paul Public schools. Our four sites are: Four Seasons A+, Maxfield, Jackson, and John A. Johnson A+ Elementary Schools. The program is focused on African-American history and culture, has an entirely African-American staff, and draws on the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

American Indian Youth Enrichment provides a parallel program (with some differences) at Saint Paul’s American Indian Magnet School (AIMS). This program is focused on American Indian history and culture, has an entirely American Indian staff, and draws on the Lakota Virtues.

Both programs are prized in their communities. Even more important, both programs are likely key supports to the children as they develop the types of strength that they will need to succeed in this difficult world.

Over the past year, Interfaith Action has been deeply engaged in a major evaluation of the impact of these two programs. World-renowned evaluator Michael Quinn Patton, who is leading this work, wrote in response to the news of the funding cut:

The approaches of Project SPIRIT and American Indian Youth Enrichment are based on the factors that research and evaluation show make a significant difference in the healthy development of children. These factors include:

Cultural Identity. An emphasis on building strong cultural identity;

Whole Child. Supporting development of the whole child (academic, emotional, physical, and mental health outcomes);

Role Models. Children are taught by teachers who look like them and therefore can be positive role models;

Trauma-Informed. Dealing with the traumatic effects of poverty; and,

Support & Engagement. Strong family and community support and engagement.

These factors are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Unfortunately, funding silos lead to separating these factors and treating them in isolation. The leading edge of effectiveness involves funding integrated programming with long-term support. Uncertain and unstable funding creates anxiety and instability, not just for program staff, but for families and children in the program. The evidence from research and evaluation clearly demonstrates the critical importance of programs that address these success factors in an integrated and consistent way.

Another team member on this evaluation effort, Nicole MartinRogers, who is Senior Research Manager at Wilder Research, wrote:

It is rare to find programs like these that have so fully integrated cultural elements such as language, rituals and daily practices, interaction styles, and pedagogical approaches. This is a critical missing piece in the school and out-of-school program experiences for many African American and American Indian youth.

We need these programs in our community, and now they are threatened with being seriously diluted or worse. How do we as a faith community respond? We will be reaching out to clergy from area congregations and faith and spiritual communities to see if we can piece together a plan to keep this important work alive in our children’s lives.

Warm Regards,

Randi Ilyse Roth
Executive Director