Students First


Kelliher School, Kelliher, Minnesota

About the Program

Kelliher School is located in a very rural setting in a high-poverty part of the county. More than half of the students reside on the Red Lake Indian Reservation and 84 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals. A large number of students live in generational poverty. Many students, especially those living on the reservation, do not trust adults who are not part of their immediate family. Many struggle even to put faith in members of their own family. Students living in trauma often perpetuate the patterns of living a day-to-day existence with goals that are short-sighted and related to immediate gratification instead of long-term learning goals. This program pairs middle school students with adult Success Coaches who meet with their mentees each month, developing a strong relationship or bond. Success Coaches inquire how their students are doing in school. They provide solutions to problems and can share how they have dealt with similar struggles. These connections help students believe in themselves and develop a sense of personal autonomy and hope for their futures.


The district has documented improvements in a number of areas, including behaviors, discipline referrals, and attendance. Student surveys indicate improved attitudes and perceptions regarding the culture and climate. Since the inception of the program, the number of incidents has been reduced. Attendance has improved while incidents of truancy have dropped. Students are self-reporting that they are more engaged in school and in learning. An annual Hope Survey has served as a reliable tool for measuring the growth of student hope indexes between fall and spring. According to this survey, student hope has increased since the program started.

The Board's Involvement

Initially, the school board’s leadership role included authorizing the program, both in principle and in terms of the costs associated with launch and maintenance. In addition, all five board members serve as Success Coaches. Such participation provides a strong and positive leadership example for the school staff and the surrounding community. The board has consistently supported efforts by administration and faculty to remove social-emotional-behavioral barriers to learning and improving the culture of learning within the school.


Tim Lutz

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