Beyond Walls is a local youth development program that builds all-star youth on and off the court. The program uses the racquet sport of squash to engage middle and high school youth from low-income and diverse backgrounds in academic achievement and pathways to college.
Beyond Walls’ program works with students on five main pillars: Academic support, physical fitness, college preparation and enrollment, exposing students to new opportunities and character development and civic engagement.
Six years ago, Beyond Walls joined a national movement in youth development and is now one of 19 Urban Squash and Education programs in the country. The program walks with students on every step of their academic journey, from sixth grade through high school graduation and into college. To date, the Twin Cities’ Beyond Walls program has worked with over 150 youth.
The University of Minnesota is a strong program partner, providing practice space at their athletic facilities and working with college students to pair each Beyond Walls youth with a college mentor. Youth participate in programming three days each week, starting with squash practice and ending their time with academic enrichment and homework help with their mentors.
“Nationally this program has a 100 percent graduation rate from high school, and 86 percent complete a bachelor’s or associate degree from college within six years. In the Twin Cities, our first cohort of sixth grade students are now in their senior year of high school. To date, all but two of our youth have already received their college acceptance letters and are planning their futures,” said Jazmin Danielson, executive director.
Beyond Walls specifically works with schools that have a large percentage of low-income students and student of color. About 80 percent of the youth Beyond Walls supports would be the first person in their family to graduate from college. For Beyond Walls, it’s all about opening doors and preparing each student to be successful beyond high school.
“This program intentionally exposes students to new experiences. The sport of squash is used as a tool to build confidence, teach strategy and instill a desire to persevere. Those key attributes are then transferred to their academic journey. Being on a college campus increases the impact. It’s like a light bulb goes on and they envision themselves attending college—the barriers are broken. The way they think of themselves and their futures starts to shift,” said Danielson.