Mentoring has always been about elevating and empowering communities by giving neighborhood children positive, enriching friendships with caring adults. This is precisely why Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities is excited to be participating in a new initiative in North Minneapolis dubbed the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ). NAZ’s comprehensive approach to youth development promises to be a game-changer for children living in the Zone, with a specific focus on improving levels of educational achievement. To paint a full picture of this innovative endeavor, we invited NAZ Opportunity & Project Coordinator Michelle Palo to contribute to the Big Blog.

The mission of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ)
is to build a culture of achievement in a geographic zone in North Minneapolis to assure all youth graduate from high school college-ready.


Minnesota has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation between African-American and white children. In fact, the gap on fourth grade reading scores is the second largest in the nation (Education Trust’s Education Watch Minnesota Fall 2006). There is no place where the realities of this achievement gap hit harder than in North Minneapolis. As a result, a “cradle to prison” pipeline, as defined by the Children’s Defense Fund, has developed in North Minneapolis propelling far too many of the community’s children to incarceration and lives on the margin.


The Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) is working to redirect this “cradle to prison” pipeline into a “cradle to college” pipeline by taking a collaborative approach to provide opportunities and support for children, starting at birth, and their families within a defined geographic zone of North Minneapolis. Inspired by the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) in New York City, community organizations gathered in late 2007 to form this collaborative effort that could translate and apply the key components and the promise of the HCZ to the Northside. Today, after two years of collaborative visioning and structuring, and buoyed by a 3-year declining rate of violence, NAZ is operational and poised to significantly alter the educational outcomes on the Northside.


NAZ is working to accomplish this by partnering with families, schools, and organizations to significantly improve education and guarantee opportunities to support for children from pre-birth to college. In order to achieve such an ambitious goal, NAZ has defined three areas of strategic focus as outlined in the NAZ Framework Model: educational, impact, family engagement, and opportunity alignment.

By building a coalition of key partners, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities, NAZ aims to revolutionize the way organizations work together and refocus their service delivery around clear achievement outcomes for families and children in the Zone. Within this integrated system, every organization, family and neighbor is focused on children’s education and success. This effort will result in children entering kindergarten ready to learn, students demonstrating proficiency at or above grade level in reading and math and children graduating from high school prepared for college and life success.


We’re “preaching to the choir” when we say that mentoring plays a key role in this plan. The influence of a positive adult in a child’s life has a well-documented impact on achievement and life success. Overall, youth in mentoring relationships experience positive academic returns, including better attendance, chance of attending higher education and attitudes toward school.

The Mentoring Action Team needs your help. In order to meet their “guarantee” of serving every child in the Zone who is eligible for a mentor, we need to recruit mentors by the dozen. If you are interested in mentoring a child in the Zone, please click here to join our movement to build a culture achievement on the Northside.

Click here for other NAZ contacts, or here to view the KARE 11 Extra on NAZ.


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