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Research on Educational Support for Minnesota’s At-Risk Youth

February 5th, 2013 by admin Leave a reply »

Philanthropedia is partnering with Minnesota Philanthropy Partners to conduct research to identify high-impact nonprofits that help ensure better education outcomes for Minnesota’s at-risk youth.

Across the nation, poor education and career outcomes for low income youth and youth of color paint a clear picture of the often mentioned achievement gap and opportunity gap. In Minnesota, the trend is no different. Since 2006, the achievement gap has increased by 10 percentage points in high school math between white and Hispanic students and between white and black students on the annual state test. (Minnesota 2020)

Scope of the Research

In preparation for this research, we spoke with 12 issue experts to better understand the area of educational support for at-risk youth in Minnesota. Their insights have helped define the scope of this research. (Thank you to those of you who offered your time and expertise!)

Who Are At-Risk Youth?

Broadly speaking, at-risk youth are young people who have a strong potential for negative life outcomes. These outcomes include:

  •      Criminal justice infractions
  •      Low wage earning
  •      Poor health outcomes (including STIs, diabetes, etc)
  •      Shortened life expectancy
  •      Violence

Common factors associated with at-risk youth include:

  •      Community/environmental risks (high crime, low education attainment)
  •      Homelessness
  •      Little or no family history of higher education
  •      Low socio-economic status
  •      New Immigrants/English language learners
  •      Racial and ethnic minorities
  •      Teen parents

Age considerations:

This research will look at all stages of youth development from birth into early adulthood. It is true that many young people are at a heightened risk of school disengagement and experiment in risky behavior in their teen years (Anne E. Casey Foundation). However, it is equally important to equip young people well before they reach this critical age and to engage them throughout their development.


Areas of Focus

Early development – The first five years of life (and even parts of pregnancy) are critical to a child’s lifelong development. Young children’s earliest experiences and environments set the stage for future development and success in school and life. Early experiences actually influence brain development, establishing the neural connections that provide the foundation for language, reasoning, problem solving, social skills, behavior and emotional health. (

Early childhood education/kindergarten preparedness – Studies show that at least half of the educational achievement gaps between poor and non-poor children already exist at kindergarten entry. Children from low-income families are more likely to start school with limited language skills, health problems, and social and emotional problems that interfere with learning. The larger the gap at school entry, the harder it is to close. (

In-school success – Keeping all young people engaged and achieving in school is critical for reducing disparities among at-risk youth.  This includes identifying struggling students, overall school quality, distributing funds and services to schools in a way that promotes equity, and dealing with school truancy and behavioral issues in ways that keep students in school.

Out-of-school time – There are numerous programs than engage young people after school, during the summer, and on weekends.  There’s a growing understanding that this out–of-school time is deeply important in helping young people succeed academically, as well as developing characteristics/traits that help young people thrive.

Criminal justice intervention – Young people involved in the criminal justice system are often at risk of becoming high school dropouts, victims of crimes, and repeat offenders in adulthood.

Foster youth support – Youth in the foster care system are a vulnerable population in many ways.  Often they are children with a history of maltreatment, such as neglect, who additionally endured various forms of trauma. Youth in foster care also face many educational obstacles because of frequent moves. They will miss many school days while in transition from home to home in addition to facing the challenges of beginning again at new schools. Lastly, many adolescents will age-out of the foster care system when they turn 18 years old and will find themselves with little, if any, financial, medical, or social support.

Rural youth – At-risk youth in rural areas have a more difficult time connecting to programs and services because there are often fewer support programs and transportation opportunities may be limited.

Homeless youth – Homeless youth face a major barrier to achievement because of the inconsistency and uncertainty that comes without having stable permanent housing.


Types of intervention for at-risk youth education

For this research, we are asking experts to recommend up to four nonprofits doing high-impact work across the state of Minnesota, and up to two start-up nonprofits that have the potential to do high-impact work.

In particular we are asking experts to identify nonprofits that are working on prevention and/or intervention for at-risk youth. While there are a number of issues about which at-risk youth organizations can be engaged, we ask that the nonprofits recommended in this research be primarily focused on helping at-risk youth achieve educational goals.

This is a vast topic and improvements and support can take on many forms. When recommending nonprofits experts may want to consider nonprofits addressing the following issues:

  • Child development
  • College preparation
  • Data collection
  • Foster care support
  • GED Attainment
  • Human capital
  • Literacy
  • Low-performing schools, turnarounds
  • Mentorship
  • Out-of-school programming
  • Truancy
  • Parental involvement
  • Quality school instruction
  • School readiness
  • School reform
  • Standards and assessments
  • suspension alternatives
  • Summer programming
  • Teacher training/education
  • The achievement/opportunity gap

We’d like to encourage experts to consider a diverse array of organizations. Types of organizations working in this area could include:

  •         After-school program providers
  •         Community based organizations
  •         Intermediaries and support organizations
  •         Libraries
  •         Policy/advocacy organizations
  •         Public schools/ public charter schools/alternative schools
  •         Research organizations
  •         Training organizations

Participation in the Research

If you are a professional (foundation staff, researcher, nonprofit staff member, etc.) working with at-risk youth in Minnesota and have insights on nonprofit organizations working in this field, we’d love to hear from you. You may have received an email from us with a link to our survey. The survey will be open until early March 2013. We hope you will share your perspective and insights! If for some reason we have missed you and you think you have a valuable perspective to offer, please contact Jasmine Marrow at with information about your current position and background, and we would be happy to send the survey to you to include your recommendations.

Additionally, we invite your feedback and thoughts about how you might frame this type of work. For those readers less familiar with this topic, we hope you learned something new and will check in again when we have the results of this research. Thank you all for your participation!



  1. Please send the survey link. Evergreen YFS is a rural organization serving runaway, homeless, foster care youth, teen parents, and youth struggling with alcohol and drug issues.

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