Education cooperative receives prestigious grant award

Mid-Dakota Education Cooperative receives Bush Prize for Community Innovation

Submitted Photo Mid-Dakota Education Cooperative staff photographed by Passenger Productions are Kelly Armijo, Lyndsi Engstrom, Luke Schaefer, Julie Packulak, Anne Williamson and Liz Tofteland.

A local organization working to improve educational services in the region is being rewarded for its innovative practices.

Mid-Dakota Education Cooperative, Minot, is one of six organizations announced today by the Bush Foundation as recipients of the 2018 Bush Prize for Community Innovation. Recipients were chosen based on their track records of successful community problem solving.

The Bush Prize celebrates organizations that are extraordinary not only in what they do but in how they do it, according to a foundation news release. This year’s winners are recognized for working inclusively, in partnership with others, to make their communities better for all.

The Bush Prize, now in its sixth year, is awarded annually in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 Native nations that share the same geography. Bush Prize winners receive a package that includes promotional support and materials, and an unrestricted grant equal to 25 percent of the organization’s prior fiscal year budget, up to $500,000.

MDEC will receive $288,000.

“We are very honored. It’s a rather prestigious award. We are humbled,” said Lyndsi Engstrom, MDEC program director. “We love being able to support schools in innovative ways and that’s what this will allow us to do.”

The Foundation received 110 applications for the 2018 Bush Prize. Three panels of community members chose the winners from their respective states. MDEC was the only North Dakota recipient.

In its announcement, the foundation stated, “MDEC creates bold, breakthrough solutions with 15 rural northwest North Dakota school districts that have limited financial resources and access to training and support services. MDEC’s wide-ranging success is rooted in a perspective that no problem is too small to be considered or too large to be solved collectively. … MDEC’s model begins with and depends upon listening to the community. The organization prioritizes partnerships in order to operate beyond its borders, providing assistance for other districts and leadership on multiple statewide initiatives.”

The foundation highlighted MDEC’s whole child approach that links physical and behavioral health with educational outcomes. Among programs that caught the foundation’s attention were training for educators and school personnel who work with children who have experienced trauma; behavioral health tools and guidelines for social emotional learning; and the North Dakota e-Care School Health Program.

Engstrom said MDEC has no definitive plans for the grant yet.

“There’s an incredible amount of flexibility, which can enhance some of our work that has less flexibility,” she said. “Our intent is to maximize every dollar in innovative ways to support schools and students in North Dakota.”

Some funds could go toward the trauma-based educational training that began in 2015. It has engaged 50 percent of schools in the state to date. The program has produced 208 trainers, most of them within school districts. Rather than training coming from an external source, schools have the ability to train from within.

“It’s more of a grassroots effort, and I think it has sustained its momentum because of that,” Engstrom said.

Developed by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction with a consultant from PATH, the initiative has been spearheaded by MDEC since inception. It’s been successful, but schools are now asking, ‘what’s next?’ Engstrom said.

“I can certainly see the Bush Foundation dollars used to support a solution to ‘what’s next?’ We continue to have those conversations,” she said.

Other projects also are under consideration for some of those grant dollars.

“We know there’s lots of work to be done in social-emotional learning. It’s our intention to learn from people in the field and help distribute that information statewide through a learning network,” Engstrom said. “One of the things we are initiating is a community cafe. It’s really, simply meant to be a mechanism for community members, for stakeholders, to provide input to schools.

“It’s really about bringing people together and collaborating to problem solving and identifying solutions to real challenges,” she added.

In the area of student health, MDEC has partnered with e-Care in Sioux Falls, S.D., to design a program to meet the needs of geographically disadvantaged students by increasing access to health care. The program uses telehealth technology to enable students to be assessed in school if they don’t feel well or if they have chronic conditions that require daily monitoring.

Eight schools have been participating in the program that began last January. Grant funds helped to implement the program, and schools participate with a per-student fee. Future plans for the program include expansion to more schools.

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