Boys & Girls Club’s Academic Success Programs Aim to Narrow Achievement Gap

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a catastrophic effect on educational attainment and has widened the achievement gap for youth across America. According to the Minnesota Department of Education statistics for 2022, we are seeing alarming patterns of under achievement: 49% of Minnesota students were proficient in reading, and this percentage drops to 29% for students eligible for free or reduced meals. Only 42% of Minnesota students were proficient in math, and this percentage drops to 21% for students eligible for free or reduced meals.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota is uniquely positioned to partner with our local school districts to help narrow the achievement gap in reading and math for Boys & Girls Club members at the Roosevelt, Eastside & Southside Boys & Girls Clubs. Under the organization’s Project Learn educational enhancement strategy, Boys & Girls Club is implementing two nationally tested and proven initiatives to combat learning loss for Boys & Girls Club youth.

The first initiative is in partnership with United Way of Central Minnesota and is called the American Reading Company (ARC). Boys & Girls Club’s Academic Success Coordinators have been trained to implement ARC to increase the literacy among Boys & Girls Club members. Youth in the Clubs are first assessed for their reading level, and then they are shown how to select and read the appropriate books, either independently or with a reading staff or volunteer in the program. Youth are continually assessed as needed throughout the year to ensure progress.

“What makes the American Reading Company program so unique is that they provide books for youth that are age-appropriate and high-interest, regardless of their reading level,” said Christine Kustelski, Director of Clubs. “If youth are in sixth grade, they are reading books written for sixth graders. This is critical to improve our youth’s confidence and interest in reading in general.”

Boys & Girls Club is also implementing a program called Edmentum, which is a digital curriculum to practice and apply skills in reading and math in project-based activities to help connect their learning to real-world situations. Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota, along with Clubs in the Twin Cities, Duluth, White Earth and Rochester, are implementing this program throughout the 2022-23 school year with youth in grades K-12 as pilot with the goal to help youth make progress toward grade-level proficiency in reading and math.

Currently, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota has enrolled 15 youth at each of the three Clubs and Discovery Elementary School, for a total of 60 youth in this pilot program. The organization will have the ability to enroll additional youth periodically throughout the school year based on organizational capacity and youth need.

Using Edmentum, Club staff will assess youth for their current grade level in reading and math. Edmentum then provides youth with an individualized learning path.

“We are excited about Edmentum, because it provides a gamified approach to learning for kids,” said Geri Bechtold, Vice President of Operations. “Video games are a strong incentive to getting and keeping kids engaged in the learning process.”

In order to achieve the grade-level progress expected, youth should engage with Edmentum for at least 20 minutes 2-3 times per week for reading and at least 20 minutes 2-3 times per week for math. Edmentum is designed so youth can log in themselves, whether they are at the Club, school or event at home. Kustelski said that Club staff will be engaging parents in the Edmentum program to encourage youth participation outside of Club hours.

“Research proves that if youth are engaged in after-school activities that reinforce the skills and knowledge they are learning in school, their grades will improve,” said Mary Swingle, President & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota. “Academic success is one of Boys & Girls Club’s three priority outcomes, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure that our community’s youth are achieving in school.”

For more information about the important programs and services providing by Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota, contact us at