Art Dale is a lifelong learner and – key to this story – a man of action. When this 80-something year old Iron Range resident turned his curious mind to study American education, the harsh reality that 50 percent of students leave school unprepared for a productive life shocked but also moved him.
“It is a tragedy if even one child is uneducated,” Art stated. “We cannot continue to ‘pass through’ half of our kids.”
Art readily acknowledges that learning is affected by issues that schools cannot fully fix: poverty, hunger, troubled home life, and others. He is, however, a firm believer that it takes a village to raise a child.
“The schools can only meet kids where they’re at,” said Art. “The community must be part of the solution by complementing what our schools are already doing to help students learn.”
This is the action part: Art’s passionate motivation linked to a Northland Foundation grant led to the creation of a new nonprofit called Volunteers in Education (VinE). VinE engages the broader community as stakeholders and tutors providing Iron Range schoolchildren with extra support to learn and achieve. They also help provide those additional things that lead to better learning: a snack for kids that are hungry, or a coat for a child that doesn't have one.
In just two years VinE has netted incredible results. Tower-Soudan, where 65% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, leapt from a dismal test ranking of 8.4% to an astounding 99.4%. Art Dale credits the “village” – the St. Louis County School District, administrators, teachers, coordinators, and of course the VinE volunteer tutors.
This year VinE will extend into two more schools and double the number of students served. The nonprofit has even bigger plans for the following year. To lead the expansion, another Northland Foundation grant is funding VinE’s first fulltime executive director, an accomplished young woman named Dominique Allen.
“The Northland Foundation grant has given me an opportunity to nurture VinE's growth. As we grow, VinE will encourage a collaborative approach to education in communities across the region,” said Allen.
The future looks promising for Volunteers in Education and brighter still for the northeastern Minnesota students whose lives this start-up nonprofit is helping to change.