Seven years ago officials in Hennepin County placed a good bet: If they provided county youth services in concert with others and in a more comprehensive way, it could change the life trajectory of young people in the county system. Thus, the ALC Plus program was established – with a clear mandate. “Collaboration must happen with the school, county workers, other mentors or youth workers, and the young person’s family or support network, in order for positive changes to occur.”
PYC Arts & Technology High School was one of two original ALC Plus sites, and Angula Erkkila-Skinner was hired as the fi rst ALC Plus Coordinator at PYC. What a prescient hire that turned out to be.
“Angula is the leader, the godmother, the one who provides the wisdom,” said Kristy Snyder, who coordinates the ALC Plus program. “Many of the practices that Angula developed have been implemented across the system. She nudged us all to expand our thinking.”
Erkkila-Skinner works with 20 students all year round, not just during the school year. Her job is to advocate for the young people under her care. “I’m here to connect all their support systems,” she said. That means she’s helping students find whatever they need to stay focused on, and in, school. Sometimes that entails helping families to find shelter or food, or working with a student’s employer to change a work schedule.
“What I do is just what’s needed,” she said. “If we get that housing piece out of the way or the hunger piece out of the way, the student is more apt to be in school, ready to learn.”
Erkkila-Skinner’s effectiveness is centered in her ability to listen well, and the importance she assigns to listening. “Angula has that illusive “with-it-ness” that young people are drawn to,” said Snyder. “She’s always thinking about what they’re saying and when she responds, young people know that they’re truly heard.”
PYC’s emphasis on student health and wellness is an important part of the ALC Plus program. “If students are well, mentally and physically, they can bring their best to the classroom, make the grades they need, graduate and continue on successfully,” said Angula. Every Tuesday Erkkila-Skinner and other PYC staff members meet to check in on each student in the school. “We’re not going to have one kid who falls under the wire,” she said.
She also sees great potential in her ALC Plus students. “Oh, yes,” she says, smiling broadly. “I see some entrepreneurs, some business owners, some great artists!”
“It’s all about the kids,” she added. “They’re so resilient and so smart – especially considering some of the stuff they’ve gone through. I tell them: Educate yourself. Make your plan. Own your own.”
Kristy Snyder concurs. “These students will be the taxpayers and leaders of the future, and the County is betting on these positives. The ALC Plus program, built from Angula’s practice and wisdom, is a program of incredible quality that makes an incredible difference in the lives of young people.”Share