For more than 40 years, the Minneapolis Urban League (MUL) has operated the Urban League Academy (ULA), an alternative high school serving students from Minneapolis. Each year, we serve about 100 students and help them finish needed credits or get re-acclimated to school when most have been unsuccessful elsewhere. Another 200 due to personal and academic challenges give up and simply quit or succumb to the lure of the streets. Throughout the years, without the resources and many times the support needed, we have been able to press forward and prepare our students with important foundational and life skills that help them to live meaningful lives and become productive citizens in our community.
Our students at the academy come to us with numerous odds against them. They are more likely to go to prison, have gang influences, experience family abuse, and pretty much all live in poverty. They are often the very disconnected, have blurry aspirations, and have lost confidence in their academic abilities. Our typical ULA student is 18 years old, African American, severely low income, behind his/her peers on credits to graduate, behind his/her peers in proficiency levels on math and reading, on his/her 4th secondary school transition, and down on school, yet still hopeful about their life. They have grown up in challenging situations, have had their spirit tested, and been through systems that have not catered to their individual needs. Our students are referred or placed in our program, often as a “last resort.” The story of our school often parallels the story of the Urban League movement nationwide. Our students are often “cast down” but they are not cast out. Through the years, we have continued to have faith and high hopes for these young people, often when few others did.
By the time a student comes to ULA, they have struggled in several high schools and have far too few credits to even think about graduating on time. We recognize with the World’s Best Workforce legislation that there is more pressure to graduate students on time. I want to believe that the added pressure and accountability will help our younger students as they move through their educational experience. I am extremely concerned about the students I see each day in front of me who are ages16, 17, 18 and ill prepared to enter their next phase of life.
The funding allotted for alternative schools is hardly sufficient to provide quality resources for the students from the most challenged circumstances, with the most complex needs. It is evident by the level of investment that contract alternative schools and the students that attend them have been left to fend for themselves, or simply discounted. Read more.