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Phillips Scholar designs program for Northfield youth

By Kenyon Thorp '11
November 10, 2009

Getting middle-school aged students excited about writing can be challenging — unless you invite a rap artist to class to inspire creativity. That’s just one of many activities that Jennifer Kramm ’10 organized as part of a summer program she designed for Northfield students.

Working with eighth graders considered at risk for not completing high school, Kramm supervised academic learning activities and enrichment activities that encouraged students to pursue their interests and learn about their community. The students often came up with activity ideas themselves, resulting in a summer program that not only included a writing workshop with a rap artist, but also a service-learning experience with the Northfield Retirement Center, a visit to St. Olaf's STOGROW farm, a performance by Aztec dancers, and tie-dying.

The project was part of Kramm’s work as a Phillips Scholar. Each year, the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation — a Minnesota-based organization dedicated to social change — awards $15,000 to each of six Minnesota students with “outstanding academic credentials and a willingness to dedicate themselves to community service.” The scholarship requires a three-year commitment: students submit designs for a community service program during their sophomore year, implement the program their junior year, and advise upcoming Phillips scholars their senior year.

As a sophomore, Kramm drafted a proposal that involved working with the Northfield Middle School’s Summer PLUS program, an initiative geared toward youth at risk for not graduating from high school. Partnering with the local program enabled Kramm to also receive support from St. Olaf’s Center for Experiential Learning (CEL), which offers an internship to students who collaborate with a local community service organization.

Identifying needs
Kramm’s program design featured service-learning activities in which students would identify needs within the community, learn why those needs are not being met, and then design action plans to address those needs. With the funds, training, and advising she received from the Phillips Foundation and CEL, Kramm successfully conducted a daytime summer program that included learning activities with licensed teachers in the morning and enrichment activities in the afternoon that were largely directed by student input. “Every time a youth’s voice was heard and there was follow-up, that was huge,” says Kramm. “It encourages the students to speak up because they’re going to be heard, and that can be applied to the political process, academics, wherever.”

Kramm’s summer of field trips, performances, and art and writing activities eventually came to a close, but her impact in the community is ongoing. She presented the ideas and concepts behind her Phillips Scholarship proposal to an administrator of the Northfield Middle School Youth Center and is hopeful they’ll be able to implement the program during the school year.

As a senior, Kramm is now responsible for advising new Phillips Scholars on their service projects. “The most important thing I’ve learned is that this type of work has to be something that comes out of the community, not something I decide the community needs,” she says.

Kramm plans to continue honing her community development skills after graduation, staying in Northfield for at least another year before embarking on what she intends to be a lifetime of working toward social change.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or