Student support program is transforming students’ lives

STRIPES reaching out to Mounds View School District parents 

The Mounds View School Board on Feb. 12 was presented with a report about the student support program STRIPES, which stands for Students Together Respecting the Importance and Purpose of Education in Schools.

For the past five years, Irondale High School Dean Marvin Sims has been developing the program to address the achievement gap at the district’s two high schools. Supt. Dan Hoverman said that Sims has done a terrific job organizing and developing STRIPES; he is working at both Irondale and Mounds View high schools and select ways at the middle schools. Twenty male students are involved in STRIPES at Irondale, and 15 male students are involved in the program at Mounds View High School.

Sims told the board that STRIPES surrounds and supports students with “safety nets” that meet their needs by  partnering with various community businesses, parents and local universities. He said the program teaches students how to learn and teaches them to be resilient, persistent and focused on education.

Sims said that he wants kids to dream big, find a college or university to attend and use education as a pathway to accomplish their dreams.

He said he was the first in his family to earn a bachelor of arts degree, which led to a masters degree and then to an administrative degree, which will lead to a doctorate degree.

“I was a product of luck,” Sims said. “I had a strong mother; I had teachers and coaches who refused to let me fail.”

He told the board that his older brother, who never graduated from high school, has had to struggle. Now at 38 years old, Sims said he has seen what education has done for him in his life.

“I know that education is the great equalizer,” he said. “With the equity promise Mr. Hoverman has made, he has taken luck out of the equation. So now all kids – regardless of race, class or disability – have a chance, and that’s awesome.”

Sims said if you really want to understand the power of the equity promise – his 10-year-old wants to be a marine biologist, and his 5-year-old wants to be a farmer or baker.

“When you talk about what education has done for me and how it has allowed my kids to benefit from that, my life was saved because of this,” he said. “So this equity promise – it’s huge for me.”

STRIPES is helping to address the achievement gap in schools through aspirations, expectations and opportunities. Sims said that students recently visited Augsburg College in Minneapolis to see what college life is all about and talk with admission representatives.

The program has high expectations for students, and every time they get a test score, they graph it and make goals for how to beat that score. In addition to focusing on education, Sims said that about once a month the students participate in a fun group activity such as bowling at the Mermaid Center.

“With this equity promise in place, we give our kids an opportunity to use education as a catalyst to accomplish their dreams,” he said. “With the equity promise, morally we’re going to give our kids the best chance we can at life. Really what I’m looking for is in about 20 years being able to sit at their table with their families, and now they can say, ‘This stuff works. Look at where I’m at.’”

Will Kah, an Irondale senior who participates in STRIPES, spoke at the Feb. 12 meeting. He said he was born in Guinea and moved to Liberia, both countries in west Africa. When he was 6 years old, he came to the United States with about eight other family members. Kah told the School Board that when going to school in north Minneapolis, you were labeled a “white boy” if you were smart or wanted to learn.

“Growing in that environment, I never really felt that sense of support or that sense of love,” he said, adding, “My grandmother always pushed me to pass and pushed me to go forward.”

He said there were times when it felt like it was him against the world. Then he moved to the suburbs in fifth grade, which he described as being “weird,” and he saw students being able to be themselves without fighting.

“I would never be able to make it on my own if I didn’t have people like [Principal Scott] Gengler and Mr. Sims around me,” Kah said.

“It’s more than just someone being there for your education, it’s more than someone being there to tell you (that) you need to get an A in school,” Kah said of Sims. “It’s someone being able to take the time and say, ‘I care about you, I care about what’s going on in your life, and I want to be there for you to be able to lean on.’ That goes beyond education.”

Kah said he has been accepted to three colleges and would never have been able to make it without Gengler and Sims.

“STRIPES has taught me that education is basically life. … Each and every day you’re learning. You don’t have to be sitting behind a desk before you learn something.

“Throughout my life, I’ve learned that I will never be able to lean on people completely; I have to have aspirations of my own,” he said. “I have to have an inner drive that drives me. … The one thing that separates someone that succeeds and someone that doesn’t is themself, and I’d be the only person standing in my way.”

Gengler said he’s most enjoyed seeing the first group of STRIPES students begin to receive acceptance letters from universities and colleges and watching their leadership influence the younger students.

Talking about the future of STRIPES, Sims said the nonprofit organization Genesys Works is looking at partnering with the program to provide seniors with internships at Fortune 500 companies, such as Target and Medtronic.

STRIPES is also bringing in the Mounds View School District community. An email was sent to Irondale High School and Mounds View High School parents in an effort to seek career coaches to speak with students. Sims said that 75 parents had responded within an hour, and parents are also interested in mentoring.


Contact Kassie Petermann at [email protected]