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Flag one of best cities for young people

Flag one of best cities for young people

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Best City

Programming for local young people is being recognized with funding and plaudits.

Today, the Coconino Coalition for Children and Youth will celebrate Flagstaff being named as one of the nation's "100 Best Communities for Young People" for its attempts to keep kids and young adults engaged.

Next week, the early childhood education and welfare organization First Things First will hand over nearly $2 million for the state agency's Coconino region programs for the next fiscal year.

More than 300 applications came in from around the country for the "100 Best" honor. The Coconino Coalition for Children and Youth headed up Flagstaff's application, which contained a lengthy list of social support services and positive diversions for youth.

Ruth Ellen Suding, the Coalition's executive director, said it's important for caring adults to be friends and neighbors with youth. She said the "100 Best" title is a testament to the work of many and, it is hoped, a morale-booster.

"It's such a tough time right now for social service providers and for people who are trying to keep programs and activities going, particularly for children and youth," she said. "And with budget cuts and constraints financially I think it was a really good time to highlight all the really great things that we are doing and are able to do."

Suding recognized Nancy Tabor, a sixth-grade teacher at Sinagua Middle School, for assigning all of her students to write an essay about what makes Flagstaff a good place for youth. Suding said she appreciated the effort on the relatively small project.

"It's people like that who push our youth to be better and to be more involved that really makes a difference," she said.

COLLABORATION ON 'TRANSITION' SCHOOL

Recognizing that young people face serious crisis and more adult-like challenges, Flagstaff's application mentioned the variety of services for youth who are abused, runaways, homeless or in jail. That includes the Alternative Center and the Flagstaff Youth Shelter, Project Safe Place and outreach.

Robert Kelty works with at-risk youth as the Coconino County Superintendent of Schools. The "accommodation" school district under his supervision includes the compulsory schools for minors inside the adult and juvenile detention centers, a transition program for youth who have just been released from custody, and the alternative Ponderosa High School (and its sister school in Page, Tse'yaato' High). He said it's unique for the school district to work so closely with the county court system to provide a safety net.

This is the first year Ponderosa made "Adequate Yearly Progress," according to the federal government, and enrollment is up to between 65 and 70. Students are generally between ages 17 and 21, and they may have already dropped out, had a child, or been in jail.

Kelty has held office for about a year. In that time, he has partnered with the Ponderosa High arm and the juvenile court office to create a day program at the court and detention facility that allows recently released offenders to ease back into school.

"I think it's that type of attitude of everyone saying, 'Let's put our best ideas on the table and then implement them and then see if they're going to be successful' that really makes us stand out," he said.

LENGTHY LIST OF SERVICES

The application, at 14 pages long, included student-written essays, a nod to Paula Stefani, an Arizona Daily Sun Citizen of the Year and local child and family advocate, and a wide range of opportunities for youth of diverse backgrounds. Here's a non-exhaustive list:

-- Social, recreational and cultural outlets: the city's "Youthfest;" the YMCA and the Club 4Twelve youth center connected to Grace Fellowship Church; Big Brothers/Big Sisters; scouting; sports leagues; programming for youth through Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); Outta Your Backpack filmmaking and social justice programs; Girls on the Run; Flagstaff Youth Theater and Theatrikos; the NAU Community School of Music and Dance; and enrichment opportunities with the Second Chance Center for Animals, the Museum of Northern Arizona, Lowell Observatory and Willow Bend Environmental Education Center.

-- Educational: robotics and Odyssey of the Mind teams at many schools; the Kinlani Dormitory that allows students from the nearby reservations to attend school in town; and opportunities for motivated high school students to take classes at Coconino Community College. Flagstaff Unified School District was mentioned for its Teenage Parent Program, Project New Start alternative school, many services for low-income families, the before and after-school FACTS care program and Camp Colton, the sixth-grade science camp.

-- Civic leadership: the city's Flagstaff Youth Advisory Council, the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association's I.A.M. Youth program, Grand Canyon Youth, Teen Court, Project Citizen (which has encouraged kids to research and advocate for real current events, such as bike lanes and school closure), and the Coconino Youth Conservation Corps.

-- Health: the county health department's traveling immunization clinics and dental varnish and fluoride treatments; low-cost checkups from North Country HealthCare and Native Americans for Community Action and Sacred Peaks; Flagstaff Medical Center's Fit Kids and Maternal Child Health programs; the city's youth bike helmet ordinance and Foodlink school gardens and nutrition lessons.

The competition was first held in 2005 and is sponsored by the America's Promise Alliance, which is dedicated to mobilizing Americans to end the high school dropout crisis and prepare young people for college and the 21st century workforce.

Flagstaff will receive a $2,500 grant, signage identifying it as one of the nation's 100 best communities for young people and access to the alliance's community development resources.

Hillary Davis can be reached at hdavis@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.

$2M to boost early childhood services

The local council of the early childhood wellness-focused First Things First is preparing to divide up its $1.9 million allocation for fiscal year 2013.

Julianne Hartzell is the council chair for the Coconino region. Next week, she will be on hand when the statewide First Things First presents the check.

First Things First is a state agency funded by a voter-approved tobacco tax, with monies having gone toward the KinderCamp kindergarten preparation program, oral health outreach, training for child care providers, childcare scholarships and in home visits to support families. The agency has regional councils, with the Coconino region covering all of Coconino County (aside from the Navajo Nation), Winslow and the Hopi, Kaibab-Paiute and Havasupai tribes. The Navajo Nation has its own council.

The agency builds in lead time - FY13 doesn't begin until next July, and revenues are being collected now for FY2014 - to make sure the money is in hand before it is disbursed. The local team, now aware of how much they have to work with for the coming year, will begin proposing how to spend it this week. The state First Things First board will review and possibly approve the plan in January or February.

Hartzell said the allocation varies every year, depending on a formula that takes into account poverty rates and number of kids in the region. The funding is slightly lower next year compared to this year.

The planning sessions for how to spend next year's money will take several meetings.

"There are so many needs out there and we have to make sure that we're doing the best we can to the best of our ability," she said.

-- Hillary Davis

If you go...

WHAT: Announcement of Flagstaff as one of the nation's "100 Best Communities for Young People"

WHEN: Today, 9-10:30 a.m.

WHERE: City Council Chambers, Flagstaff City Hall

If you go...

WHAT: Presentation of $1.9M annual check to Coconino region of First Things First

WHEN: Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2 p.m.

WHERE: YMCA Ykids preschool, 1001 N. Turquoise Drive

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