The Cargill Scholars Program focuses on Minnesota’s socio-economically disadvantaged students, helping them thrive.
The “achievement gap” refers to the difference in academic performance between groups of students, most frequently measured by test scores and graduation rates. The disparity in performance and test scores is the result of many factors, including race, ethnicity, language and household income—any one of which can affect a student’s ability to succeed in school.
In the state of Minnesota, and specifically the metropolitan Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the achievement gap between white students and minority students is especially wide. White students consistently outscore their black, Hispanic and American Indian classmates on state math and reading tests. Graduation rates for minority students in Minnesota are among the lowest in the country.
To help bridge the achievement gap and better understand the drivers contributing to it, the Cargill Foundation launched the Cargill Scholars Program in 2001. Fifty kids were selected to participate after being identified and recommended by local teachers and administrators. The comprehensive, nine-year initiative was designed to improve students’ scholastic performance by raising academic expectations, preventing disruptive behavior and improving life skills. Starting with tutoring and family counseling in the fourth grade, the program continued until the ninth grade, when students moved into a college incentive program called Destination 2010. After completion, these students became eligible for up to US $10,000 in scholarships for post-secondary education.
During the program’s pilot years, Cargill focused on keeping students and their families involved in all aspects of education. Academic tutors, field trips and musical instruction kept students active both in and out of school, and families were given instruction on how to stay engaged in their child’s school experience. Working with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Minneapolis, many Cargill employees served as mentors to the 50 Cargill Scholars in the program, accompanying the students on field trips and helping them study for college entrance exams.
To measure the impact of Cargill’s initiative, The Wilder Research Center followed the pilot group of students through the program, from their first day in 2001 through high school graduation. Research showed Cargill Scholars had heightened interest in academics and extracurricular activities, and improved social skills with peers and adults. Of those who completed the program, 69% attended post-secondary education, well above the average of 49% from the district.
Today, the Cargill Foundation supports similar initiatives aimed at improving academic success for disadvantaged students in the Minneapolis metropolitan area. Knowing that students perform better in school when they eat well-balanced meals, the company is now sharpening its focus on funding programs that support early childhood nutrition for students from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade. The Cargill Foundation now contributes approximately US $8 million annually to non-profits that serve the community surrounding Cargill’s headquarters.