The Northfield High School TORCH program is a collaboration among members of the school district, and community members, to address the issues of the achievement gap. Originally TORCH served Latino students, but because of our success, our programs are now available to all traditionally under-served students including first-generation college students and low-income students. We offer tutoring and academic advising, as well as ACT preparation, leadership opportunities and career exploration. We also facilitate college visits and experiences. Among our many programs, we offer a PSEO program that allows students to obtain college credit for free. As our program evolves, we partner with community members to meet the changing needs of our students.
The mission of TORCH is to improve the graduation and post-secondary participation rates of Northfield’s minority students, low-income students, and youth who would be first-generation college attendees.
In 2005, the graduation rate for Northfield’s Latino students was 36%. However, with the support of the TORCH program, the graduation rate of students involved is has risen and remained over 90%. This is a staggering transformation that has resulted from incredible collaboration by the TORCH partners and staff. TORCH has grown to include a much greater variety of students including students from all backgrounds, low-income students, and any potential first generation college students. One Northfield Public Schools administrator recently called TORCH the “single most effective intervention I have seen in my 20-plus years of education.”
Northfield has a graduation rate of more than 91%, with over 85% of high school graduates enrolling in post-secondary institutions. Unfortunately, in the past, Northfield’s Latino children have not experienced this same success. From 2001-2004, only 15 Latino students graduated from Northfield Public Schools, while 27 dropped out – a graduation rate of 36%. During that time, fewer than five of the Latino graduates pursued post-secondary options after high school graduation.
TORCH began as a collaborative initiative to address this gap — and the results have been incredible. After a successful first two years, TORCH expanded to also serve Northfield’s growing low-income population and students who would be first-generation college students; partners recognized that these young people could benefit from the additional academic and post-secondary support and noted that the number of local children on free- and reduced-price school lunches has grown by nearly 70% in the past five years. Moreover, nearly twice as many Northfield low-income students test below grade level on standardized tests as their more affluent classmates.
The biggest “problem” for the TORCH program has been the increased demand for the TORCH services by eligible youth. This is a direct result of the program’s success in helping students graduate from high school and progress to college. Although TORCH only expected to serve about 100 youth at the time when it first started, the program now serves over 450 current students and 100 alumni! As a result of the commendable work of the TORCH staff and partners, these additional youth have been able to receive services from the program.
TORCH is funded entirely by grants and donations. TORCH is extremely grateful for all its financial supporters:
- Minnesota Office of Higher Education – Intervention for College Attendance Program
- Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation
- Northfield Area United Way
- Women In Northfield Giving Support (WINGS)
- City of Northfield’s Grace Whittier Fund
TORCH is a collaborative initiative that relies on extensive in-kind support from its partners:
- Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges continue to provide more than 50 college students to tutor and mentor TORCH participants during study halls, EL classes, and after school. These students also assist with ACT preparation for high school students. The colleges coordinate academic classes to lead evaluation projects of TORCH, as well as workshops with TORCH students.
- The Northfield Mentoring Coalition works with TORCH to identify appropriate mentoring programs for TORCH middle school students. The mentoring agencies of the Coalition recruit, screen, train, and monitor the mentors, providing ongoing support to the matches.
- Northfield Public Schools are great partners in the TORCH initiative. District teachers from the EL and FOCUS programs serve as resources to TORCH staff and participate in the TORCH planning and evaluation processes. In addition, the Northfield Public Schools donate the time of the Northfield High School Assistant Principal/School Connectedness Coordinator, Marnie Thompson, to serve as the TORCH Project Director.
- The Northfield Middle School Youth Center continues to provide an after school tutoring location for TORCH participants where students can receive homework help or other academic assistance from volunteer tutors and school staff.
- The Northfield Healthy Community Initiative contributes time from its Executive Director to assist with the TORCH evaluation and grant reporting efforts. HCI coordinator, Sandy Malecha, assists TORCH with its career exploration and college readiness programming.