by Muneer Karcher-Ramos, Director of the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood
Although the link between family stability and children’s academic success may seem rather obvious, many programs and initiatives working to address the achievement gap traditionally have geared their efforts toward either parents or children. The Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood (SPPN) is taking a two-generation approach in everything we do – working to “lift up” families in St. Paul – at home, in the schools, and in the community. According to the Aspen Institute, “two-generation programs provide opportunities for and meet the needs of parents and their children together.” This philosophy is woven throughout everything SPPN does and it is changing how we work with children and families in the SPPN as well as how we work with each other.
We know housing is a top challenge for SPPN families that affects school success for children. To tackle this challenge, the SPPN received a 2-year, $875,000 grant from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) to provide rental assistance to stabilize families in the SPPN. A collaboration between the Minnesota Department of Education and MHFA, this funding is part of an initiative to improve school attendance by providing housing stability and thereby allowing children to attend the same school without interruption. The idea is that attendance is a primary indicator of school success. We spend a lot of time talking about curriculum, teachers, activities, etc. But a significant predictor of school success is who shows up.
The grant will focus on 50 homeless or highly mobile families over the two years through a strong partnership focused on the whole family. The SPPN Navigators will work to identify families who are most likely to benefit from this program. The Frogtown Rondo Home Fund is working on developing new affordable housing for families and getting families housing-ready once the new housing becomes available. The schools are committed to measuring the impact this initiative has on attendance. The Wilder Foundation’s Family Supportive Housing Services will manage and administer the rental subsidies, and provide tenant education support to landlords and families.
Taking a two-generation approach may be easier for a collective impact model initiative like SPPN than for individual programs, because SPPN is such a diverse network of individuals, organizations and systems that have agreed to work together in a coordinated fashion toward a common goal. But it is a new way of thinking for ourselves and some of our partners, and it is exciting to see it begin to tangibly benefit families and foster increased achievement for our children.