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Spokane named All-America City for work in schools

National Civic League recognizes programs for at-risk youth

For the third time in 41 years, Spokane has been named an All-America City.

The award from the National Civic League went to 10 U.S. cities. Spokane, which previously won the award in 1974 and 2004, was recognized this year for focused efforts to boost high school graduation rates.

Mike McGrath, a spokesman for the National Civic League, said the All-America designation could help Spokane bring in jobs or secure grants for city projects. He said an All-America City is “viewed as a city that gets things done, that works together.”

Winning cities were selected from 14 finalists after a conference two weeks ago in Denver, where a panel of about a dozen National Civic League members judged presentations on community efforts. Mayor David Condon and other community leaders formally announced the win Monday morning at City Hall.

“The reality is, it’s a community effort,” Condon said. “It’s not just city government.”

Spokane’s entry highlighted three school programs for at-risk youth that are closely aligned with President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.

Those programs included Spokane Public Schools’ Community Attendance Support Teams, groups of volunteers who work with students and parents to help reduce truancy; Communities in Schools, a program launched in 2008 that puts students in touch with community leaders; and the Youth Police Initiative, a five-day course that introduces high school students to Spokane police officers.

“With the help of community leaders and high school staff, we get those kids, who maybe don’t really like police, to dispel stereotypes,” said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, who has led the monthly course for about a year and a half.

About 150 students have completed the course, and about 70 law enforcement officers have participated, DeRuwe said. Some of those students now are preparing to help officers reach out to younger children through the Spokane Police Activities League, or PAL, which will take place weekly during the summer.

Superintendent Shelly Redinger lauded the Community Attendance Support Teams, which are funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“More and more unexcused absences puts a student at high risk of not graduating,” Redinger said. “So we have had Community Attendance Support Teams at all six of our middle schools, where we’re bringing communities, school staff, partners who are able to provide resources to the student and parents, and sitting and having a supportive conversation.”

Since 2010, when only six in 10 students were finishing high school, Spokane Public Schools has raised its on-time graduation rate to 83 percent, well above the state average of 77 percent.

The city will soon begin replacing signs with ones that bear the All-America title.

“It positions Spokane on a national level as a really great city,” said Jeanna Hoffmeister, chief marketing officer for Visit Spokane. “This year’s All-America honors were all about supporting vulnerable youth. That’s a philosophical statement, that’s good advertising that you really can’t buy.”