Go Far to See Close

October 19, 2015

MCF’s Early Childhood Delegation to Sweden

I think we sometimes have two conflicting ideas of travel. One is personal travel, the romantic idea of going to an exotic location and exposing yourself to new flavors, sights and ways of thinking. Travel as a pause button on our often hectic lives, so we can refresh and re-enter the fray with a new sense of purpose.

The other is business travel, which for those of us in the social sector means cramped airline seats, quick trips to conferences held in look-alike hotel ballrooms and plenty of rubber chicken dinners. There are sparks of great ideas, but they are easily extinguished as you try to focus on both the session at hand and the unrelenting emails that drag you back to the office.

When I proposed to my staff that MCF lead an early childhood delegation of funders, practitioners, researchers and civic leaders to Sweden, I think many of them envisioned the business trip described above on steroids. What we got instead were the sparks of brilliance that business travel can bring enriched with the relationship building and wonder more often associated with personal travel.

What does it mean for kids in Minnesota?
In September 2015, 20 delegates – including funders, elected officials, professors, representatives from early childhood programs, members of MCF’s staff and others – traveled with me to Sweden. We spent five days meeting government officials to begin to understand the infrastructure and funding tied to Sweden’s world-renowned education system.

We also met university professors dedicated to educating the next generation of early childhood teachers, and we toured three types of pre-school programs to better understand the classroom experiences of Swedish children. The visits were thoughtfully curated by our tour guide in Sweden, and they gave us time to really dig in and ask questions to help us answer our most pressing question: What does this mean for kids in Minnesota?

While the official visits were critical, I think the moments that felt more like personal travel will endure. Walking through Old Town Stockholm to help a fellow delegate find just the right souvenir for her new grandchild while conversing about what outdoor preschool education looks like in Duluth. Standing together on a city bus and being asked politely but loudly to move from the baby carriage section, and realizing that society is very different when children and families are at the center. Sitting in a restaurant built in the 1300s on the grounds of Uppsala Cathedral and watching delegates with very different ideas of what early childhood should look like discover how much they actually had in common.

All of these experiences are what one delegate member, originally from Denmark, called hygge – the warm feeling of connection and hospitality that opens you up to new ways of being with each other. This space of hygge creates the conditions where trust, respect and mutual joy become the foundation for doing something very different in our local communities.

I believe experiential travel has an important place in our work. By leaving our little corner of the world and exploring what can be learned from a very different corner of the world, we grow and our communities are better off because of it. We get sparks of brilliance enriched with wonder and relationship. Säker resa!

Trista Harris, president, Minnesota Council on Foundations

Mary Jane Melendez on Best Practices in Corporate Philanthropy

January 20, 2015

ff1The latest episode of Fast Forward features Mary Jane Melendez, now executive director of the General Mills Foundation!

She speaks to MCF President Trista Harris about best practices in corporate philanthropy that the General Mills Foundation is putting to good use, and about the foundation’s partnership with Hunger-Free Minnesota to support our state’s hunger-relief programs.

Hear from Melendez on:

  • How the foundation leverages General Mills employees who live in the communities the foundation serves.
  • The company’s move from traditional volunteerism to leveraging the skills and experiences of its employees.
  • The history of the Box Tops for Education program and what makes it such a big success.
  • What to look for in a successful partnership like the one the foundation has formed with Hunger-Free Minnesota.

Listen to the podcast online now, and subscribe to it through iTunes!

Graves Family Foundation Announces Inaugural Grants and Grant Cycles

December 9, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 4.36.39 AMThe John and Denise Graves Foundation, serving the greater Minneapolis area, recently announced its inaugural grants. The foundation chose 14 grant recipients who share the foundation’s education equity goals of:

  • increasing high quality K-12 seats serving disadvantaged youth,
  • researching, advocating, and organizing for high quality schools and school leaders and
  • identifying and addressing systemic issues contributing to educational inequity.

The Graves Family Foundation will be accepting Letters of Inquiry for its education equity grant cycle from February 1st through Feb 27th, 2015. Its second grant cycle, which will focus on foster youth and youth experiencing homelessness, will begin in the summer of 2015. For more information, visit the foundation’s website.

High Quality K-12 Seats

The foundation awarded general operating grants to high performing charter schools and networks in the greater Minneapolis area who are actively working to increase the number of students they are capable of serving or are working to replicate their school’s model:

Policy, Advocacy, and Community Building

It also has awarded general operating grants to organizations that provide policy, advocacy, and community organizing support for high quality schools and school leaders.

System-wide Leadership

And in its other priority for its inaugural grants, the foundation has awarded general operating grants to organizations that identify system-wide issues contributing to educational inequity and work to correct them.

Visit the foundation’s Past Grants page for a full list of recipients.


Charitable Giving is Up in Minnesota

December 4, 2014

Screen_Shot_2014-12-03_at_4.16.17_PMToday, MCF released our new Giving in Minnesota research, the most comprehensive analysis of charitable giving in the state. It shows that individuals, foundations and corporations gave $5.7 billion in 2012, a 2-percent increase in total giving over 2011.

Individual giving went up to $4.1 billion in 2012, while grantmaking by foundations and corporations in Minnesota declined by 6 percent to $1.6 billion. Other highlights include:
Education Receives the Most Grant Money
Screen_Shot_2014-12-03_at_4.15.16_PMAs has been true historically in Minnesota, education received the largest share of grant dollars (29 percent) of eight subject areas tracked. Education was followed by human services (23 percent); public affairs/society benefit (16 percent); arts, culture and humanities (13 percent); and health (10 percent).

Half of Grant Dollars Stay in State

In 2012, 48 percent of Minnesota grant dollars went to organizations and programs serving the state. Forty-seven percent was distributed to groups serving other parts of the U.S., and 6 percent supported international causes. Corporations tend to distribute grants more widely than other types of grantmakers.

Check out the full report on our website, and see today’s featured stories on our research in the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press.

Learning and Teaching with Fire

October 21, 2014

AIHECYesterday we brought you a post from Kayla Yang-Best focused on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Today we have a post from Kyle Erickson of Blandin Foundation, who attended the same event and shares takeaways from the Tribal Colleges portion. Thank you Kyle!

Native Americans and African Americans have traveled a very different path through time and place in America. One area of shared experience for the two cultures is a history of governmental and societal policies and systems that have resulted in a largely inequitable educational experience for their young people.

Too often, these communities – and their aggregate educational outcomes – are viewed through the lens of an “achievement gap,” or some other well-intentioned but ultimately negative point of view. “Learning and Teaching with Fire: Lessons from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Tribal Colleges (TCUs)” provided a fresh perspective, sharing lessons of significant successes and best practices developed at these minority-serving institutions that can inform and improve education for students from any background.

Tribal College Movement Growing

According to Carrie Billy, director of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), the Tribal College movement has grown from one institution in 1968 to 37 colleges and universities today, comprising 75 campuses that cover 80% of Indian Country and serve nearly 90,000 learners through academic and extension courses. Half of enrolled Native Americans attending college today are at a TCU. With help from these institutions, the number of Native Americans who have earned a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree has increased almost 250% over the last 20 years.

The list of TCUs includes four in Minnesota, located on the Leech Lake, Red Lake, White Earth, and Fond du Lac reservations. Billy identified significant areas of achievement at TCUs in Minnesota and across the country including:

  • Place-based research that allows TCU students to learn while addressing local and regional problems ranging from diabetes treatment and prevention to aquifer management and alternative agriculture systems.
  • Degree programs that meet community needs, including nursing, teacher education, and indigenous language studies.
  • Creation of a comprehensive data reporting system (AIHEC AIMS) that ensures accountability to communities and funders, and provides a platform for continuous institutional improvement.

The best practices for student success outlined by Billy and other TCU panelists – proactive, “intrusive” academic advising; access to experiential learning and research opportunities with support from caring faculty; wraparound student support services; designation of a go-to staff or faculty person for each student – are a part of the comfortable, familial environment cultivated at TCUs to ease the transition to postsecondary academic and social life. This is especially crucial given the high percentage of tribal college students who are the first in their family to set foot on a college campus.

Overcoming the “High Risk” Label

Dr. Don Day, President of Leech Lake Tribal College, pointed out that these successes have been gained despite daunting challenges. Commonly identified barriers to postsecondary success include being a first-generation college student, coming from a low-income household, being part of a racial/ethnic minority group, receiving inadequate academic preparation in high school, and being a parent while attending college. Nearly all TCU students fall into one or more of the “high risk” categories, and it’s not uncommon for a student to fit all of them, yet these institutions and their students are finding a path to success.

The stories of growth and achievement despite long odds and inadequate funding caught the attention of many attendees including Sen. Patricia Torres-Ray, who called for a statewide conversation to learn more about how to better support the important role Minnesota’s tribal colleges play in our educational ecosystem. If Minnesota aims to take equity in education seriously, that conversation will be the starting point of a larger, deeper body of work that will benefit Native American and non-Native learners alike.

More material from the conference can be found on the Center for School Change website.

HBCUs Share Best Practices for Student Success

October 20, 2014

cscToday on the blog we welcome MCF member Kayla Yang-Best of Bush Foundation, who will share what she learned from a recent event about Tribal Colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Thank you, Kayla!

I had the great pleasure of attending a presentation and panel discussion on Historically Black Universities and Colleges this past week. The presentation was part a larger convening hosted by the Center for School Change on Learning and Teaching with Fire: Lessons from HBCUs and Tribal Colleges.” What an invigorating discussion – one well participated by community leaders and people from a wide range of organizations and sectors, including K12 and policymakers.

We heard many examples of students of color who are succeeding in postsecondary education. I’d like to focus on a couple examples from HBCUs that left an impression on me:

  • HBCUs retain and graduate low-income, academically under-prepared students at higher rates than non-HBCUs.
  • 40 percent of Black students with degrees in STEM graduated from an HBCU.

What accounts for this success? Dr. Brian Bridges of the United Negro College Fund, one of the speakers, attributed it to “a culture of experimentation” – where HBCUs are doing things differently and intentionally. He highlighted several practices, including:

  • High level of student/faculty engagement
  • Proactive advising
  • Promoting culture and a high level of self-identity and
  • Setting high expectations.

He concluded his talk by saying “these strategies can be adapted to all education levels and settings.”

At the core of these practices is connecting to culture, that in turn creates a high level of self-identity, belonging and relationship that the kids desperately need. A good illustration of that came from the audience, a young black man, who stood up and said that he has often been told his history starts with slavery. And that is a very negative foundation to identify with. In his words, “what about before slavery? There is more to me and who I am.”

I was really moved and energized coming out of that convening. Besides learning about the great results of the practices of HBCUs and Tribal Colleges, the convening presented a positive and asset-based narrative about kids of color and achievement, which we don’t hear enough about.

Thank you to the Center for School Change for the convening.


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