Anoka-Hennipen Schools, a future without limits

College can be every Anoka-Hennepin student’s destiny, even if they’re not expecting it. For some Anoka-Hennepin high school students, college can seem like a long shot—something out of reach. That can be especially true at the district’s Crossroads Alternative High School and its eclectic body of students.

“College? Well I really never thought I’d be doing something like that,” said Mary, one of the 60 students who in June attended a weeklong career development course offered at Anoka-Ramsey Community College (ARCC) called “College Ready.” All but a handful of the students on hand for the program were Crossroads students.

Mary, 18, has an 8-month-old baby. But even before leaving high school and giving birth, she said college was never something she had really thought about. And that’s pretty common among Crossroads students according to Patricia Halsey, teacher at Crossroads.

“We have all kinds of students here and for some of them—for any number of different reasons—college isn’t even a thought,” Patricia Halsey, a Crossroads teacher said. “Until now.”

Stacy Brunsgaard, an academic advisor at ARCC who coordinates the program, said the class’ intent is to give students an on-campus college experience and to prove that obtaining a college education is possible.

“It is definitely true that many of the students involved in the College Ready program did not really see themselves attending college,” Brunsgaard said. And that may be what makes the success of the now two-year-old program so inspiring.

“We have several students from last year’s College Ready now attending classes and pursuing degrees at Anoka-Ramsey,” Brusngaard said.

By attending the program and completing the four-day course with at least a C grade, students earn a college credit—for free, Brunsgaard said, to go with newfound post-secondary inspiration. On day five, those students also participate in a recognition program, and can invite family to attend with them.

The nuts and bolts of College Ready is to teach students how to assess their interests, needs, and abilities in order to recognize the many components that go intomaking career and college decisions, Brunsgaard said.

“Basically, I just found out I have what it takes to go to college,” Mary said. “I mean, I could get a degree—a real good job. It’s pretty neat.”

The students also attended classes on various programs and topics at ARCC and Anoka Technical College, including sessions for Associate in Arts degrees, financial aid, computer networking, engineering, machine trades, practical nursing, information technology, and a host of others.

“Teachers are very enthusiastic in their support of the program and the opportunity it presents to the students,” Brunsgaard said. “They told me that many of the students could finally see themselves attending college in the future and parents are proud of their students and expressed their support of their students’ future academic goals.”

The students participating come in all shapes and sizes, Halsey said. From teen mothers to, students experiencing homelessness, to kids who have been in trouble—the situations for Crossroads students can vary wildly but it’s made just for them.

“Post secondary goals are different for almost every student. The pathways those learners take is even more diverse,” she said. “But this program empowers students.”

Brunsgaard sees it, too. “My favorite part of coordinating the program is being able to listen to the students excitedly discuss all the different things they had learned and their plans for attending college,” she said.

College Ready evolved from ARCC’s collaboration with Anoka-Hennepin schools, and other districts, to promote student success, according to Jaimie Lopez, ARCC’s director of advising services.

“ARCC worked with local high schools on identifying programs and services that were already in existence as well as potential new initiatives,” she said.

This year’s College Ready class was a mix of Crossroads students from Anoka-Hennepin, and a few students from Ivan Sand Community High School in Elk River.

Brunsgaard said thanks to the success of College Ready the past two years, students can expect a third year.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students,” she said. “That’s what we keep hearing from parents.”