We wanted to share this great–and thorough–blog post from Connor Jackson, Nick Jones, Samantha Kemper, Doug McGill and Richa Sharma, who are students at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. They interviewed MinnCAN for background information to help shape the following post, which can be read in its entirety here.
Founded in Learning
Northfield, MN – "I like putting a lot of time and energy into helping 5- and 6-year-olds read and write and become better people," says Anne Erickson, a 37-year-old kindergarten teacher at the Sibley Elementary School here.
Her idealism is why Erickson quit a perfectly good public relations job and career track twelve years ago, to go back to school for a teaching degree. That, and equally strong ideas she holds about what it takes to create a healthy community:
“My hope is that we become a community of learners,” she says.
This south central Minnesota town where Erickson teaches kindergarten is on the one hand—with its Route 3 dotted with gas stations, small strip malls, a pancake restaurant and two taquerias—a small midwestern community like any other in these parts.
On the other hand, Northfield is no ordinary town at all thanks to Anne Erickson and many people here with a life’s mission very similar to hers.
For many communities, “commitment to education” as a core civic value remains more rhetoric than reality, a lofty ideal that usually takes second place to commerce, industry and development as drivers of growth.
But in Northfield, education is the town’s main business and guiding social value. Two world-renowned liberal arts colleges, St. Olaf College and Carleton College, were founded in Northfield more than a century ago. Today their combined students, faculty and staff of around 7,000 comprise more than a third of Northfield’s total population of around 20,000.
Over the decades, the education-first ethos of Carleton and St. Olaf has taken hold in greater Northfield.
This phenomenon has in turn created a community filled with diverse educational programs that support education not just as a classroom exercise but as a lifestyle for many of its citizens from cradle to grave.
“There is more education per-square-head in Northfield than almost anywhere in America,” said Dr. Edward Lufkin, a former Executive Director of the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium (CVEC). The organization offers an innovative elder education program here that has been lauded in the Washington Post, the Today Show and other local and national media over the years.
In 2012, Northfield was named one of the "100 Best Communities for Young People" by America's Promise Alliance, a non-profit foundation created by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to "focus on ending the high school dropout crisis and ensuring that students graduate ready for college and the 21st century workforce." The city was one of only three Minnesota cities chosen for the award.
How does Northfield do it? How do Northfield’s teachers, students, administrators and other city leaders describe the ideals that motivate them and the values that guide them?
To answer these questions, here is a glimpse into four of Northfield’s educational programs: its public school kindergartens; a high school program to help underprivileged students graduate; a high school technical and vocational skills program; and an elder education program for Northfield’s seniors and retirees.