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Itasca area youth programs kicking it up a notch

The 4 steps of the M3 process. Courtesy of Ignite Afterschool (

sprig by Posted in Grants, Rural Capacity Building

It’s January. Many folks start each new year focused on improvements they want to make.

Itasca area youth programs are doing the same. Today, 30 staff from nearly a dozen organizations that provide after-school activities and programs are reviewing data about the quality of their programming, and charting a course for change. The programs are members of the Itasca Networks for Youth (INY).

Called M3 – Making Meaning of Multiple Datasets – the process guides participants to reflect on their current information about practices, attendance, outcomes and program experiences, then build an action plan to move their programs forward. It’s a statewide initiative managed by Ignite Aftershool, a statewide consortium of after-school providers.

Most regions rely on certified instructors from Ignite’s office in Minneapolis. But Jan Derdowski, an educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service who serves the Itasca area, recently was certified. She works regularly with Itasca area youth programs through the SPARK initiative, making her a great fit for the project.

Today’s session is the most recent step in a quality-improvement journey that INY members began last year, when they recognized that, collectively, the programs weren’t evaluating programs as effectively as they could. Together, they completed training on the Youth Programs Quality Assessment (YPQA) tool, a validated, nationally recognized evaluation method. They also committed to collecting data using this method, so data is as uniform and easy to compare as possible.

Working together and aligning data is the kind of systems change that can boost the vibrancy of the Itasca area. Staff support and inspire one other to take on and accomplish new work. It gives them space to put a careful and critical eye to their programming, and make changes that best serve the needs of youth, like the ones outlined in the Itasca area Youth Voice Survey.

We applaud today’s gathering, and look forward to seeing the results of their work!

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