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Private School Helps Mpls. Public School Students Aim For Graduation

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Fifty-nine percent of Minneapolis public school students graduate from high school, a number that is slowly increasing.

But there is a program students can attend in the summer that will up those chances to 99 percent.

And of all places, it is a program at a private school, where 20 percent of students are merit scholars.

The Blake School started the program for seventh and eighth graders 15 years ago -- called Learning Works.

It may look like a typical scenario when you first walk in a summer classroom at Blake. But in a way, the teens are from different worlds.

Margot Graham is a Blake graduate and freshman at Middlebury College in Vermont.

"You kind of get used to the same level of socioeconomic background, so then when you come here you realize, 'Oh, that isn't the average Minneapolis kid,'" Graham said.

Home from college, she is teaching summer classes and learning, too.

"I think that's really important for us, and gives us a new perspective that we can bring back to Blake," she said.

Learning Works' students are Minneapolis public school students, and 65 percent in this summer program are low-income homes. Thirty-five percent live in a home where English is not the first language.

"Our students are really beating the odds in the city," Natalie Owens-Pike, Learning Works' executive director, said.

Some of the teachers are Blake alums, and others are just interested in teaching. Instructors teach versions of classes they took in college, and they prep students for the upcoming school year.

"I also really like learning about the things we're going to learn next year," student Kawsar Mohamed said.

And as beneficial as that leg-up can be, this program is really about what happens five years from now.

"Eighty-five percent of them go on to a college program versus sixty percent of those Minneapolis high school graduates," Owens-Pike said.

But it is not just about academics.

"They just teach you that it's cool to be you and it's cool to care," student Heaven Graham said.

Second-year student Nico Bacigalupozappia says it is a very supportive environment.

"We all cheer each other on and we all give each other high fives," Bacigalupozappia said.

Click here for more information on the Learning Works program.

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