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studentsfirstStudents First is a community effort to help youth reach their full potential by pursuing their goals with support from caring adults. During the school year, youth participants meet with Students First Strengths Educators to participate in activities that focus on each individual's strengths. The students create Success Plans that will evolve as they move from 6th to 12th grade. These Plans can include personal, academic, post-secondary, and career goals. Each student is paired with a volunteer Success Coach from the community to support them in reaching these goals.

Each of Students First’s sessions incorporates information and/or activities about Strengths and how to apply them in daily life. The combination of these activities with hands-on application augments the students’ Gallup StrengthsQuest assessment results in ways that really allow the students and coaches understand the power of their Strengths.

Service projects were added in 2015-16 to give the opportunity for the oldest cohorts (10th and 11th grades) to think about how they could use their Strengths to make a difference for the community of which they are a part. They were given the choice of: making blankets for children at the Northwoods Coalition for Family Safety, writing letters to MN military units stationed abroad, or creating cheerful personalized wall decorations for the elderly at Havenwood Nursing Home. The students, alongside their coaches, completed nearly 100 projects.

The community group Bemidji Leads! envisioned the Students First program in 2009 and made its development and implementation a top priority. A community advisory team made up of charter and district school administration, teachers, counselors, parents, county government, business, and youth-serving organizations developed the Students First Operations Plan through an unprecedented collaborative process led by BASC and Headwaters Regional Development Commission.

Funds contributed by Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Blandin Foundation, George W. Neilson Foundation, District 31 and TrekNorth have been instrumental in the development and pilot phase of this program. Continued support of the program has been provided by District 31, an Expansion Grant from the Northwest Minnesota Foundation and The Bernick's Beverages and Vending Fund of the Central Minnesota Community Foundation.

In 2016-17 more than 500 students from District 31 and Kelliher Schools will be active in the program. In 2017, the first Students First cohort will graduate from Bemidji High School.

*Note: When school is cancelled, all scheduled Students First activities are also cancelled. Visit for more information on school cancellations.

Students First Contacts

Melissa Heglund
Program Coordination/Strengths Educator

Karen Stish
Stengths Educator

Lara Gerhardson
Special Projects Consultant