2022 AmeriCorps YPAR grant

Click on the community partner logos for more information!

This material is based upon work supported by the Office of Research and Evaluation at AmeriCorps under Grant No. 22REAMN001 through the National Service and Civic Engagement research competition. Opinions or points of view expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of, or a position that is endorsed by, AmeriCorps.

Grant Overview

In October 2022, Carleton College, in collaboration with five school districts in Minnesota and YoUthROC (a youth participatory action research team in North Minneapolis), received a grant from the AmeriCorps Office of Research and Evaluation for a project entitled “Using YPAR Insights to Transform School Policies and Practices.” This new project builds on the youth participatory action research (YPAR) methodology and networks developed through Carleton College’s 2018 Community Conversations grant.

Systematic reviews of YPAR in the United States continue to emphasize the role, agency, and awareness of youth rather than systemic changes that could result from taking up the findings of their research (Anyon et al., 2018). While engaging in YPAR enables young people to view themselves as capable civic actors, YPAR alone does not close the gap between the findings and recommendations from youth-led research and actual changes in school policies and practices that would lead to a more engaging and relevant education for all students. Fitting within AmeriCorps’ third funding priority area, “Communities: Understanding Civic Infrastructure and How It Strengthens Communities,” the main research question asks how youth and supportive adults can push for changes in their own schools, districts, and communities by connecting insights from youth research to professional development for educators and by having youth representation in decision-making structures (e.g., on teacher-hiring committees).

The plan is to disseminate findings among the six community partners (Brooklyn Center Community Schools, Faribault Public Schools, Rochester Public Schools, St. Anthony-New Brighton Independent School District, St. Louis Park Public Schools, and YoUthROC at the University of Minnesota) through regular gatherings of adults and youth from each site; participation in a May 2023 YPAR (youth activism) summit and an end-of-the-year grant gathering at Carleton College in June 2023, and an expanded web page on the Carleton PAR website.

Anyon, Y., Bender, K., Kennedy, H., & Dechants, J. (2018). A systematic review of youth participatory action research (YPAR) in the United States: Methodologies, youth outcomes, and future directions. Health Education & Behavior: The Official Publication of the Society for Public Health Education45(6), 865–878. https://doi.org/10.1177/1090198118769357

Community Partner Information

Brooklyn Center Community Schools

Contacts: Renee Starr, Ryan Oto, Amina Smaller

Brooklyn Center is an inner-ring suburb in Hennepin County, Minnesota, with a population that is approximately 60 percent people of color. The school district enrolls approximately 2,200 students with 85 percent of its students being identified as students of color, 17 percent of students qualifying for special education services, 71 percent qualifying for free or reduced meals, and 17 percent identified as English language learners.

Image source: @bcyparbaddies on Instagram

The YPAR program in Brooklyn Center is in its third year, with financial support for youth-researcher wages from the district’s community schools department. The program is led by Amina Smaller, an experienced youth researcher and facilitator and a co-founder of YoUthROC, with the goal of meeting the district’s mission and vision of becoming a justice-centered school district through the leadership and empowerment of young people. Previous projects have led to systematic changes to our school’s culture, including the creation of a youth-centered and -directed emotional-grounding space (supported by a nearly $10,000 grant), youth-led professional development about youth well-being, and the inclusion of youth on hiring committees for every teaching position in the secondary school. The most recent YPAR project focused on the need for restorative justice in our schools, and youth leaders are currently in conversations with district administrators to create policies for adults to be trained in restorative justice, as well as to develop a youth discipline committee to represent youth voices and perspectives in the school’s disciplinary system.

This grant will allow our focus to turn toward the sustainability of the YPAR program. Drawing on the concept of “youth enterprise” (Gillen, 2019), we believe that sustainability comes when we pay youth for their knowledge and work. As such, funds would be used to ensure fair wages for youth researchers, leaders, and the “near peers” (young people who are out of high school but under the age of 25), who operate as a network to strengthen and sustain our youth-centered initiatives. This in turn reinforces the district’s mission, vision, and values as a community school to practice shared leadership and empower youth in sustainable and impactful ways.

Gillen, J. (2019). The power in the room: Radical education through youth organizing and employment. Beacon Press.

Faribault Public Schools

Contacts: Stacy Fox, Nora Schultz

Faribault Public Schools was one of the partners in the 2018 AmeriCorps grant. The grant supported YPAR teams for three years at the high school, and last year, grant funds supported a YPAR team at Faribault Middle School. This team consisted of eight students, and the team was co-facilitated by two young adults who were part of the first high school YPAR team (Damaris Garcia and Nima Harun). The middle school students worked with these co-facilitators to develop a survey for their peers around school safety; attended a workshop facilitated by YoUthROC where they deepened their knowledge about YPAR and met youth researchers from other schools; and presented their findings to school staff in May 2022.

Faribault Middle School is located in Rice County, Minnesota, and enrolls approximately 730 students with 41 percent of these students being identified as white, 31 percent as Hispanic or Latinx, and 22 percent as Black or African American. Of the student population, 18 percent are English learners; 65 percent of students qualify for free or reduced priced meals, and 15 percent students qualify for special education services. 

This new AmeriCorps grant will support another year of YPAR team work at the middle school through stipends for the co-facilitators and the students. We are also excited to connect the youth researchers and adult support staff with YPAR teams across the state who are also partners in this grant. We look forward to working with our school’s YPAR team to present their findings to our site equity council as well as to district administrators as appropriate.

Middle School YPAR Presentation
Middle School YPAR Presentation
Middle School YPAR Presentation

Faribault Middle School YPAR team presenting about their work in May 2022

Rochester Public Schools

Contacts: Natalia Benjamin, Heather Willman

Rochester is a city in southern Minnesota with a majority white population. The Rochester Public School District enrolls approximately 17,600 students with 45 percent of their students being identified as students of color, 18 percent as qualified for special education services, 36 percent as qualified for free or reduced meals, and 10 percent as English language learners. 

At Rochester Public Schools, each high school offers an ethnic studies class. As part of the curriculum, students will have the opportunity to engage in youth participatory action research (YPAR) to identify community assets and needs. Students will identify and investigate issues, design instruments to gather input from the community and stakeholders, and suggest solutions rooted in community responsiveness. Through this process, students will be engaged in actionable research and will be agents of change in their communities. Moving forward, the district will utilize the knowledge gained from these projects to engage students to be part of the teams working on solutions to the issues. In addition, the district will partner with the students to create meaningful professional development for teachers at the district level to spread the YPAR pedagogies to other areas such as social studies classes, environmental science, etc. 

Group Collaboration

Having students lead this work will help the district to empower student voices and student choice to create affirming learning spaces. Implementing YPAR in these spaces supports the Rochester Public Schools strategic plan by centering the student experience in our schools. This project directly connects to the “Teaching & Learning” section of the plan, which focuses on increasing the capacity to provide each learner with an education that is culturally responsive and deepens student learning. This also increases postsecondary and career readiness for all students as they engage in high-level work through YPAR. Grant funding will be used for stipends for youth and teachers involved in this work.

St. Anthony-New Brighton Schools

Contacts: Alison Criss, Amy Stenson Kujawski

Located in Northeast Minneapolis, the St. Anthony-New Brighton School District (SANB) serves the city of St. Anthony Village and a portion of New Brighton. The district enrolls approximately 1,800 students with 38 percent students of their students being identified as students of color, 10 percent of their students as qualified for special education services, 17 percent as qualified for free or reduced meals, and 8 percent of their students as English language learners.

YPAR Students
YPAR Students

At St. Anthony-New Brighton, the role of student-centered leadership and community research has been strictly co-curricular. Our middle school Student Diversity-Leadership Group (SDLG) was thrilled to partner with YoUthROC this spring, participating as the youngest group in their YPAR training. Inspired by the work of other youth activists around the Twin Cities, our students used PAR methods to examine issues of race and racism at school, specifically considering the experiences of students of color in a culturally white space. Our team presented their research findings to administration, and students hope to continue this work next year in ninth grade. Our administration is using this data to inform next year’s professional development and student accountability systems. One of our new district goals is to incorporate youth research and community leadership as foundational experiences for our middle and high school students. The high school is piloting a YPAR elective class in partnership with the University of Minnesota, and all eighth graders will take a seminar course that incorporates YPAR methodologies alongside a year-long research project that fosters collaboration, critical thinking, and change making. Ideally, the students’ research will impact the professional development and staff and community learning as well as practices and policies in the school and district. This grant will sustain our vital partnership with YoUthROC and help us foster new community partnerships.

St. Louis Park Public Schools

Contact: Silvy Lafayette

St. Louis Park is an inner-ring suburb in Hennepin County, Minnesota, with an 80 percent white population. The school district enrolls approximately 4,600 students with 47 percent of their students being identified as students of color, 15 percent as requiring special education services, 27 percent as qualified for free or reduced meals, and 8 percent as English language learners. 

St. Louis Park YDA 2020 and 2021
St. Louis Park Youth Data Analysts 2020 and 2021
St. Louis Park YDA 2022
St. Louis Park Youth Data Analysts 2022

In summer 2020, St. Louis Park (SLP) Public Schools launched the Youth Data Analyst (YDA) summer internship program in the Department of Assessment, Research, and Evaluation to center student voices in our continuous improvement process. YDA interns are SLP students who are paid a stipend to study district data, academic research, and their own lived experience. After analyzing this data, they create a youth-led research project and, based on their findings, develop recommendations for all E-12 schools in our system. YDA interns present their findings to nearly 150 educators who make up leadership teams in the SLP district each August. Their recommendations help SLP schools create annual goals and have also played a key role in district strategic planning. In 2020, the school district created a five-year racial equity transformation plan. A key priority in our strategic plan is to address YDA recommendations from 2020 and 2021.

In 2020, the YDA group’s research project asked: 

How can we get more students of color into honors, AP, IB, and GT courses? Why aren’t students of color already in these advanced classes? In 2021, YDA interns asked: How does the SLP discipline system affect students? What are students’ experiences? What role does the staff play?

As a result of YDA’s work, the following changes have already been made in our system:

English YDA Recommendations Chart

To date, the YDA program has employed 22 SLP interns. Funding for the program has been provided by community partners, SLP’s Department of College and Career Readiness program, and our community education department. This year, we are working with Dr. Abigail Rombalski (YoUthROC) and two McNair Scholars from the University of Minnesota. YDA interns have been invited to present at local and national conferences to school leaders and are viewed as leaders in our system. They are often invited to sit on leadership teams for various projects throughout the district. AmeriCorps grant funding will be used to fund YDA interns and our district’s work to change its policies and practices based on their recommendations.

YoUthROC, University of Minnesota

Contact: Abby Rombalski

RJJ Urban Research Outreach and Engagement Center (UROC) members (image via @youthroc.umn on Instagram)

In 2017, Abby Rombalski and two local teachers (including Alison Criss, now at St. Anthony Middle School) attended the Public Science Project’s Critical Participatory Action Research Institute at the City University of New York (CUNY). They returned to Minnesota to activate YPAR in classrooms or organizations, working across schools to continue learning from and with each other. In 2018-19, Abby and a number of high school– and college-aged individuals from North Minneapolis co-founded YoUthROC out of the University of Minnesota’s RJJ Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC), with a commitment to create a sustainable space to provide support and training for anti-racist, justice-oriented youth research. YoUthROC is a community and university-connected youth research team that supports the growth of youth participatory action research and that is committed to youth, kinship, and racial justice in education. The team centers Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) youth and youth from other marginalized communities. In addition to hosting an “Intro to YPAR” and “Research to Social Action” workshop series, our “Curriculum for Social Change” workshops coach young people to collaborate and to create their own workshops that contribute to youth-powered curriculum. This grant will support our work to coach interested teachers to work alongside students to utilize youth-powered curriculum that values the brilliance of young people and how they envision their education. It will also be used to sustain our continually emerging network through hosting common events, hiring young people who are learning to be researchers and facilitators, and educating adult allies.

YoUth ROC Team
YoUthROC team at UROC
AmeriCorps YPAR. Grant Year 1 Updates Image

YPAR Summit May 2023

On Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20, 2023, approximately 160 youth and 40 adults came to the Science Museum of Minnesota to learn about and share experiences with YPAR. The summit was co-planned by adults and youth, including team members from four of the community partners in this grant: YoUthROC, St. Louis Park, Rochester, and St. Anthony. YoUthROC, Brooklyn Center, and St. Anthony also facilitated planning meetings leading up to the Summit. Youth and adults from all of the community partners for this grant attended the Summit, and two YPAR teams (YoUthROC and Brooklyn Center) facilitated workshops. The Summit was a great success in many ways. It provided a space of connection and learning for youth from at least eight different school districts across Minnesota, who received feedback on possible YPAR projects next year and beyond. One of the goals for this grant was to create opportunities for youth and adults from across the partner sites and other schools and youth organizations to build networks, and the Summit definitely succeeded in that goal. 

Community partner YPAR teams at the YPAR Summit May 2023

Community Research Partners

Year 1

Brooklyn Center Community Schools

BCCS YPAR Team Photo   BCCS YPAR Team Photo

                    Brooklyn Center YPAR Team presentation of                                                             Brooklyn Center YPAR Team visit to the                                        “Empowering Change at BC through Restorative Joy”                                                           Mahmoud El-Kati Ujima Library 

Activities and Accomplishments

During an onboarding retreat, youth researchers were hired as district staff and taken on an off-campus retreat to be fully immersed in the YPAR experience. This interrupted the routine of the school day, allowing for authentic community building and engaging learning. Funding gave us flexible options for compensation, including gift cards and meals for focus group participants. The team is now designing times for adults and youth to build kinship and learn about restorative justice practices, a need identified through their research.The Brooklyn Center YPAR team, additional students, and district staff attended the first MN YPAR Summit. The team was able to share knowledge and projects with a broader community of researchers. For the first time, a YPAR summer internship program will be offered in partnership with YoUthROC. Six new interns will be onboarded, examine past research projects, and work with YoUthROC to develop professional development and action plans for next school year. Through this summer partnership our team developed a professional development for BCS staff that focused on merging their past research projects. It was a super fun culmination of both groups’ past work. 

BCCS YPAR Team Photo

Brooklyn Center YPAR Team members at the YPAR Summit May 2023

Plans and Goals

A new team of researchers and Brooklyn Center adult supporters will continue to challenge other staff within the district to examine processes and modify systems designed for adults, such as the hiring process, so youth are fully supported and recognized as productive members of our district. A new youth research team will be onboarded, as many current members will graduate in June, again through the off-campus retreat. New members will support existing action projects from needs identified in school years ‘22 and ‘23, as well as conduct another full research cycle inspiring new action and professional development for staff in the district.

Faribault Middle School

Activities and Accomplishments

YPAR team and facilitators worked closely with the Faribault Community School team and participants. The researchers connected with after-school participants focusing on the impact of cleanliness on learning outcomes and achievement gaps.

YPAR Site Council Presentation

YPAR student researchers presented to the Faribault Middle School site-level teacher leadership team with a collaborative discussion following. Teachers were interested in the “FMS Clean Up” and “Prayer Time” policy that the students put together. FMS Principal Stacy Fox tasked herself with looking into potential schedule changes that would accommodate longer prayer time. Students traveled to the Science Museum to take part in student-centered discussions around YoUthROC work and YPAR models/experiences. Students were able to observe and learn about other students’ cultures and community practices. Students presented their research to friends, family, and FMS staff members on May 30, 2023.

Plans and Goals

In Fall 2023, the YPAR group will finish their spring research and give a final presentation to district staff. In spring 2024, a new group of students, representative of the general student body, will learn the objectives and parameters of the YPAR model. They will attend an orientation led by previous YPAR researchers that will aid them in their study of the impact of cultural competency and knowledge among staff. They will strive to prove that this affects overall student wellbeing and learning. This research will be presented to district staff and absorbed by district professional development opportunities.

Faribault Middle School YPAR Team Photo

Faribault Middle School YPAR Team

Rochester Public Schools

Activities and Accomplishments

During the first year, we were able to organize a group of high school students to explore school environments and what helps them learn. We examined the following inquiry question: How do we build rich, affirming, learning environments in content-area classes? We started our work with the following questions: What would you hope students can experience? What are your hopes and dreams? What are ways to learn? From the youth answers, conversations, and sharing of their own experiences and their peers’, we developed questions to gather more data from peers and staff. We started the district’s process to get approval for our survey. We hope to be able to analyze the results over the course of Fall 2024 and to engage staff and students in a learning experience to address the issues of building rich, affirming, learning environments at the high school level. We are also planning to have youth co-lead professional development over the summer that addresses these topics through a course, “Race and Ethnic Studies.”

Rochester Public School YPAR Team Photo

Rochester High School YPAR Team meeting

Plans and Goals

The goal for year two is to expand the work from year 1 to all four high schools: Century High School, John Marshall High School, Mayo High School, and Rochester Alternative Learning Center (ALC). We will identify staff at each site that would be willing to lead this work and work together to engage staff and students in the YPAR process and/or implementation of the work of students for year 1. Our goal is that this work will strengthen a sense of belonging and community, which is an area of growth based on district’s data at our secondary schools. Through this work, we also hope to build student and teacher capacity to have courageous conversations in classroom settings. This work will help support multidirectional learning by putting students at the helm of educators’ professional learning.

St. Anthony-New Brighton Schools

Activities and Accomplishments

The YPAR project work at St. Anthony Middle School happened through classes and clubs under the direction of teacher Alison Criss. Alison and two high school students facilitated a YPAR Summit planning meeting. Alison and the two students were part of the organizing team for May’s MN YPAR Summit.

Plans and Goals

Because the YPAR at St. Anthony was interrupted by adult leaves of absences (illnesses, maternity leave), the site will use carry-forward funds from Year 1 to continue building their capacity for YPAR during Year 2.

St. Louis Park Schools

Activities and Accomplishments

We held a Youth Data Analyst (YDA) internship with five St. Louis Park High School students in the summer of 2023. The interns met periodically between June 21st and August 17th, 2023. During that time, interns reviewed literature, shared lived experiences, reviewed district data, developed research questions, collected and analyzed data and reported their findings along with recommendations to stakeholders. The internship culminated with an in-person presentation to over 100 staff of St. Louis Park Schools and was well received. District staff are currently working on developing their annual improvement plans, based on the interns’ recommendations. The main research question of this summers’ work was “How have teacher-student relationships affected student experience since 2020?”  Abby Rombalski (adult advisor for YoUthROC) and two YoUthROC alumni members led the internship as subcontractors. The YDA team also presented their work to several local academics and community members, including Dr. Anita Chikkatur, the grant PI. In addition, a group of 2022 interns presented their work at the LEAD conference at the University of Minnesota in August. Dr. Silvy Un Lafayette received an award from Cheryl Broadnax Award for Innovation and Result from StriveTogether for her work with the YDA program.

St. Louis Park YPAR Team Photo St. Louis Park Team Photo

                        Summer 2023 Youth Data Analyst interns                                                            2023 Youth Data Analyst team presentation                                                         from St. Louis Park High School                                                 


Activities and Accomplishments

  1. Reading: We read Bettina Love’s work about spirit murder and it informed our work.
  2. Research Practice: We learned from each other’s leadership and facilitation skills, and developed our skills with the team’s support. As we progressed through our project, we honed in on our definitions and methods after each event, informing/improving the next event; we prepared a research methods workshop with revised and clarifying questions, examples from previous data, and reflection activities; we ensured that our research methods reflected the values of our topic, experiencing joy and not just talking about it.
  3. Facilitation: We developed the Youthful Joy research methods workshop to connect and unite youth in the community, hear their reflection on youthful joy, and help other communities grow as much as they allowed our team to grow (BC Baddies, South High All Nations Program, our UROC northside workshop, and the YPAR summit). We held debriefs with a feeling of accomplishment after successfully facilitating events and workshops. We were able to attend the Minnesota YPAR Summit and share our information with an even larger audience and connect with youth across our state to get feedback and spread even more joy.
  4. Summer work included a deep partnership between YoUthROC and the BC Baddies, using the conceptual frame of both groups to put together an invited educator Professional Development session that jump started a “Restorative Joy” cohort. (See photos above under Brooklyn Center’s YPAR team.)

Plans and Goals

We plan to pursue a new research topic that is meaningful, productive, adaptive, and reflective of past years’ work; to continue to cultivate a strong team community, friendship and kinship as a foundation; to create a safe and welcoming team for all members; to embed kinship and community engagement throughout the year; to build relationships with the community and researching with youth; to make our research project helpful and useful to the community, including in social action; and build theater into the team’s project (ex: theater of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal and dance with Averie Mitchell-Brown). Year 2 partnerships in formation include a continued partnership with Brooklyn Center’s YPAR team and possible partnerships with youth in Brooklyn Center’s ARISE program, South High’s All Nations program, and with Girls in Action based out of north Minneapolis. Ongoing product work includes the Youth in Social Movement website and the Restorative Joy handout for educators.

Carleton College

Much of Carleton/PD Chikkatur’s work this year has involved ensuring that the community partner sites were getting access to grant funds and supporting the planning and execution of the Minnesota YPAR Summit in May 2023.

YPAR Survey for Staff and Teachers

Because the main research question for the grant centers on how to bridge the gap between YPAR team findings and recommendations and adults who have to implement the actual changes, PI Chikkatur decided to launch a baseline survey of adults in the five participating school districts on their views on YPAR and student-centered pedagogies. This survey was designed to provide this baseline of staff knowledge and experience with YPAR and other student-centered pedagogies so that school districts can understand what training and knowledge their staff needs to support youth-driven interventions into their classrooms, schools, and districts. The number of survey responses varied across the five schools with a total of 181 survey responses that were analyzed by three Carleton students with the support of Professor Andy Poppick in Carleton’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The students prepared a final report that Chikkatur shared with all of the community partners in August, after adding some analysis and thoughts on next steps. 

The results are shared below:

Statistical Report of AmeriCorps YPAR Grant 2022
Findings on Student-Centered Learning
School District Teacher Demographic Data
Regional, State, and National Teacher Demographic Data

Carleton student researcher, Ahtziry Tinajero, created the infographics