Back to School Brings New Energy, New Opportunities

This year, Back to School brought a new kind of jitters for me.

For the first time in 15 years, I was not directly involved in helping schools open their doors for the new year. There is a unique mix of nerves that comes with making sure a district’s schools are staffed up for day one, that every campus is prepped for students, and that the buses are running on time. I didn’t quite know how it would feel not to be part of that energy.  

But since I became Generation Next’s executive director last October, it’s become even clearer that whatever side of the work you’re on, we all have a key role in rallying around our students—in particular those who come to school with less. I watched this idea come to life during the United Way’s Action Day a few weeks ago when, with my two children, I stood alongside 3,000-plus volunteers and 24 nonprofit partners, stuffing supplies into 12,000 backpacks so that Minneapolis and Saint Paul students could go back to school with the tools they need.

Scenes from Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 2017 Action Day
(Photo credit: Greater Twin Cities United Way)

There are no do-overs
Seeing all corners of the community come together for our schools was inspiring, and left me energized about the collective impact we can have. For an education nonprofit, the start of a new school year is a time to reflect, reset, and recommit, because for all of our students, this year on their path from cradle to career is urgent. There are no do-overs, and as nonprofit partners, it’s our job to help them make this year count. Unlike a teacher, they may not see our impact up in chalk on the blackboard (or, more likely these days, marker on whiteboard), but that doesn’t make our efforts any less urgent.

At Generation Next, we’re excited to do this work shoulder to shoulder with a coalition of likeminded partners, including the leaders of both school districts and the charters in our region. In June, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff joined our leadership council as co-chair. And a few weeks back, we were honored to co-host a welcome reception for Saint Paul Public Schools’ new superintendent, Joe Gothard.


        L-R: Sarah Caruso, Mary Gothard, Superintendent Joe Gothard, Dr. Eric Jolly, and Michelle Walker

What’s next for us?
As we continue pursuing our vision of closing the achievement gap in both cities, the Generation Next team has spent the summer looking hard at how we can get better. Just as I saw Back to School differently this year, we owe it to students to look at our work in new ways and, if needed, do our work differently. We’ll have some exciting things to share in the coming months—and we’re going to be sharing more, in general. Keep an eye on your inbox, on Facebook and Twitter, and on our website, which we’ll be redesigning in early 2018.

Welcome back to school!

In partnership,
Executive Director Michelle Walker and the Generation Next Team

SIF 2015