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Innovations in Public Achievement

October 8, 2010

“Public Achievement is a way to make our dreams come true,” says D., a 7th grader at Fridley Middle School in suburban Minneapolis.

That’s lofty praise from someone who only learned about Public Achievement a few weeks ago. But it’s an early success of Fridley’s program that someone like D.—a survivor of the juvenile justice system and multiple school changes—believes that he not only has the right to dream but that school is a place where he can work to achieve his dreams.

Dennis Donovan, national organizer for Public Achievement, and coaches at Fridley Middle School.

Last month, with support from the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Fridley began a year-long pilot of Public Achievement in Project STAR, which serves kids facing challenges that have limited their academic and social development.  The 10 students in the program will be joined by 6 peer counselors—7th graders with special training and a commitment to improving the school’s social climate.

Over the next week or two, these fifth through eighth graders will be guided through a process in which they form small teams to work on two or three issues. Some of the issues they’re talking about include animal abuse, gang membership, bullying, and installation of solar panels on the school. Seventh-grader D. wants to create an alternative to the current juvenile justice system that will focus more on real strategies to help young people succeed.

The Fridley teams are being coached by students in Augsburg College’s special education and teacher licensure program.

“These students are just blossoming,” says faculty advisor Sue O’Connor. “I can see it in the kinds of questions they ask [when we debrief], their leadership and skill in working collaboratively to plan meetings, and the insights they bring to the classroom.”

Future special education teachers

O’Connor and her colleagues in the special education program learned Public Achievement concepts firsthand when they formed a group last spring to explore bringing Public Achievement into their curriculum. This year, half of the faculty group is working directly with the student coaches while the others are developing observation tools to evaluate the effects of Public Achievement on students in a special education population. They will also be evaluating the impact of Public Achievement on future teachers.

“[Public Achievement] is having an impact on us, too,” says O’Connor, citing examples of how she and other teaching faculty have become more intentional about stepping back and letting their students solve problems and make decisions.

Fridley special education teachers Michael Ricci and Alissa Blood are working closely with Augsburg faculty and students, and are providing support and continuity for their students between Public Achievement meetings.

“This project has a service-learning approach that will provide our students with the opportunity to explore their unique gifts and talents and to make meaningful contributions to our community,” says Ricci.  “They will learn what it takes to navigate the process behind such things as finding shelter for the homeless or installing solar panels to save money and to minimize negative effects on the environment. It’s a real-world testing ground for them.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ke$haCannibal permalink
    March 28, 2011 5:29 pm


  2. eminemfan44 permalink
    March 28, 2011 5:34 pm

    I agree this class does seem awesome:)

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