Five Paths for a Strong Start to School

This column originally appeared in several APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers during August, 2022, including Morrison County Record.

Five Paths for a Strong Start to School


Families and community members can help produce a much stronger opening of school this fall. Here are five approaches, none of which cost a cent, that can help more students succeed.

1.Download and review with youngsters ages 5-18 the terrific free publication “Reach for the Stars.” Barb Bergseth, who lives in Fridley and is program administrator at Synergy & Leadership Exchange, explained this booklet lists 130 “academic enrichment programs, challenges, competitions, events and opportunities for K-12 students.” These programs allow youngsters, as Bergseth put it, to “discover and develop their interests, passions and talents.”

Some are done through participating schools. Some can be done from home. Some have a modest cost, others are free. Programs include for example, art, chess, Legos, chemistry, cyber defense, duck stamps, Future Farmers, languages, math, music, poetry, spelling, STEM design and writing contests. These programs give youngsters something to look forward to and enjoy. Updated and expanded annually, “Reach for the Stars” has been published as a wonderful free gift to students and families for almost 40 years. A free color copy can be downloaded here.

Cover of Reach for the Stars Publication

2. Want to help students and a school in your area, neighborhood or community? Here’s a link to “50 Ways Families and Community Members can Help Schools”. They range from one-time assistance such as sharing a hobby or special expertise, to regular involvement, such as tutoring. Some involve going to a school building, some can be done from home or business. Most educators welcome assistance from family and community members.

Some of the “50 Ways” – please use link to receive complete list

3.For ninth-12th graders, connect with your youngster’s (or with family permission, your grandchild/grandchildren’s) school to determine how you can be involved in the post-high-school plan that state law requires be created and updated each year, with family review. The idea isn’t to “lock in” students to any particular career or job, but to help them identify their interests and explore via classes, internships, apprenticeships, shadow studies and other activities.

Business and community groups can and in some communities “do” play a valuable role in these plans. This law encourages school-community partnerships, recognizing that experiences outside of school can help youngsters decide what’s right for them. The state law is here. Minnesota Department of Education provides free resources to help create this plan.

4.One part of this post-high-school planning should include consideration of Minnesota’s array of free academic and vocational college credit programs. Some are offered on a high school campus, others online or on a college or university campus. Depending on their skills, youngsters can start taking some classes in ninth grade. By the time they graduate from high school, some youngsters have earned a certificate or AA degree. These are wonderful opportunities to explore interests and passions, and save literally thousands of dollars. They’re summarized here.

5. Finally, families and community members should present an encouraging, hopeful picture of the coming school year. While not pushing youngsters in a particular direction, it’s helpful for family members to describe positive experiences they had in school. I’ve pleaded with companies in the past “not” to advertise about “the end of summer freedom.” This isn’t to suggest that every adult had completely positive experiences. But especially in these challenging times, encouragement helps.

This isn’t a complete list. But these examples can help youngsters have a more successful school year.

Joe Nathan, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome: or @joenathan9249 on Twitter.