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Body recovered March 19, 2019 from Mississippi River near Hager City

Every Hand Joined helps the school year start with a spark

Jess Whitcomb of Every Hand Joined leads a planning meeting with school leaders and students for the first day of school rally. (Photo by Samantha Bengs)

Full of first-day-of-school anticipation, Hudson Caverly headed to Sunnyside Elementary for kindergarten bootcamp earlier in August. The Red Wing 5-year-old is the first child of Curt and Jodi Caverly to enter school.

“The bootcamp was very helpful for both myself and Hudson,” Jodi Caverly said. “He was able to get used to the classroom setting, lunch lines and even recess before the school year started.”

Hudson joined more than 150 incoming kindergarten students in the program.

“The kids worked on coloring, reading and using shapes and numbers,” Caverly said. “Hudson was so excited to meet classmates, teachers and to get to know his school.”

Kindergarten bootcamp is one of many collaborations of Every Hand Joined. Approaching its fourth year in Red Wing, Every Hand Joined is a nationally supported group with its roots embedded deep in the Red Wing community.

Stemming from its Cincinnati-based parent organization, Strive Together, Red Wing is one of 64 communities across the United States involved in this type of work using the “Strive” form.

“It gives us a framework within which to operate,” said Charley Nelson, Every Hand Joined executive director. “What we do is very independent and defined by Red Wing and its needs. We are the smallest of the communities using this framework.”

Every Hand Joined focuses on the power of collective impact. In 2012, Red Wing businesses, nonprofits, city and county government, schools, foundations and parents gathered to address an alarming trend in the community of young people being increasingly unprepared for the 21st century economy that is demanding more from them, staff said.

“We developed, and now are entering our fourth year of implementing this cradle-to-career initiative,” Nelson said. “It is data-driven and community-wide.”

Data-driven

With input from school district personnel and community leaders, Every Hand Joined developed five networks, built of community connections to help better service Red Wing’s students

The Hunger Free Kids and Early Childhood networks were the first to be established.

“Data shows us that kids perform better with consistent meals,” Nelson said. “From data that we have gathered working with the school district, we look at how do we eliminate hunger from getting in the way academically for our kids?”

One area of concentration is the school district’s breakfast program.

“We looked at the breakfast already being offered at schools and tried to engage with students and market to parents the importance of breakfast,” said Deanna Voth, network facilitator. “You can’t go through school hungry and still learn effectively.”

After talking with parents and students, the network recognized a need for a quicker breakfast option.

“If a student’s bus route was delayed or they are running late, they are more likely to skip breakfast,” Voth said.

After the implementation of a grab-n-go option, breakfast participation increased at each school building: Sunnyside Elementary School – increase of 17 percent, Burnside Elementary School – increase of 17 percent,

Twin Bluff Middle School – increase of 11 percent, Red Wing High School – increase of 6 percent.

Another initiative to combat hunger among students is the summer lunch program. Every Hand Joined staff reported over 30 percent of Red Wing students participate in the free-and-reduced meal program during the school year.

“When school breaks for the summer, these students might lose that steady meal option every day,” Voth said.

In 2014, the first of the summer lunch programs, one site served 1,200 meals to children. The next year two sites served just over 2,000 meals. In the program’s third run this summer, network volunteers facilitated eight sites, serving more than 8,000 meals to Red Wing kids.

“The growth shows the need for programs of this kind,” Voth said. “It is a way for every community member to look at and think differently for new ways to bring about success in a child’s life.”

Early childhood

Working with pre-kindergarten children to make them ready for learning environments is another focus for the organization.

“We are working together with 20 local early child care providers to focus on social and emotional development,” Voth said. “By working earlier and earlier with children, we can make them more prepared for learning environments.”

A pilot program was launched provided math kits to pre-kindergarten students. A coach has been available to help encourage growth and be a liaison to families and teachers.

“This isn’t just a nice thing that people are doing, this is need that is based on the changing demographic of Red Wing,” Nelson said. “If we have kids that are starting kindergarten behind, it is really hard for them to close that gap and get caught up. For our community to survive, for these kids to survive as they go out into their careers later on, it is imperative that we all join hands and come together for the betterment of our kids."

The college and career readiness network focuses on juniors and seniors, helping them prepare for post-high school learning.

“We have a postsecondary toolkit available for families,” Voth said. “We have been able to have a very targeted college fair, inviting the top 25 colleges attending by Red Wing students.”

FAFSA completion workshops have been a popular event for junior and senior students and parents.

“We have college financial assistance professionals available to help,” she said.

First day rally

A new event this year, the Ignite Your Spark Pep Fest will welcome Red Wing High School students into the new school year.

“We will have speakers and representatives from the community showing students how they found their spark and how it has got them to where they are today,” said Jess Whitcomb, network facilitator.

She described a student’s spark as a motivating factor, finding a purpose or cause that he or she is passionate about.

“We want this pep fest to be an exciting and encouraging start to the school year,” she said. Community members interested in attending can email Whitcomb at jwhitcomb@everyhandjoined.org.

“We want businesses showing support for the students and showing them what opportunities they have,” Whitcomb said.

As the community prepares for the new school year, Nelson and staff are confident in their growing participation numbers.

“Red Wing was built for this type of community and school partnership,” Nelson said. “This is long-term work. We want to continue and become a part of the DNA of Red Wing.”

Hudson Caverly attended Kindergarten Bootcamp at Sunnyside Elementary. (submitted photo)Hudson Caverly’s kindergarten confidence from the bootcamp program will ideally demonstrate the lasting efforts of Every Hand Joined. His younger sister, Piper, will follow in his footsteps when her schooling begins in a few years. “It’s a 100 percent yes for Piper to attend the bootcamp,” mother Jodi said. “It made Hudson so excited and comfortable for school.”

For more information on Every Hand Joined, visit www.everyhandjoined.org or their Facebook page.

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