There’s a list of prospective colleges written in dry erase marker on one wall of Jackie Carlson Hayden’s office at Brooklyn Center High School. She calls it “The Panic Board.”
“I have seniors who come in here and they rank their choices, and then they re-rank, and then they cry a little, and then we do it all over again,” Jackie says. “I try to connect students to their dreams, because a lot of them come from families who have never sent anyone to college, and some are immigrants, or their families are refugees, and they don’t feel like that’s attainable. I get them thinking about the possibilities.”
That’s her job as college and career coordinator at Brooklyn Center Community Schools, which are among the most diverse in Minnesota. But it wasn’t long ago when she could relate, graduating from Anoka High School. Her mom had emigrated from the Philippines, and Jackie recalls learning from her what it was like to face those challenges. She navigated her way to a 2012 degree in peace studies at the College of Saint Benedict – excelling along the way. She helped launch the Bonner Leader Program at Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s, part of a national effort on more than 85 college and university campuses in 22 states that offers a work-study award and scholarship in exchange for community service. She also was one of six Phillips Scholars in the state, which allowed her to implement a self-designed service project to address unmet community needs. Her idea was to create a service-based learning program at St. Cloud’s Southside Boys and Girls Club. Projects were based on the social change wheel.
Jackie began her career teaching environmental education in the redwoods of northern California. Then she moved to the south side of Chicago and encouraged social and emotional learning through games for more than 450 students at a low-income school. Eventually, she returned to Minnesota and coordinated out-of-school programming for a community with more than 900 underserved, at-risk youth. But it’s now that she’s having her greatest impact. The Brooklyn Center Class of 2018 chose her as its commencement speaker. This year, graduates will be awarded more full scholarships than ever before.
“I’m in a unique position and I’m so moved by these students,” she says. “Their stories of resilience empower and energize me.”
She draws on her experience at Saint Ben’s when advising them.
“I tell students ‘College is what you make of it,’” Jackie says. “I don’t think I realized how impactful it was for me to be at an all-women’s college. A lot of the sisters really inspired me with their humble service. They weren’t boastful, and it was the same with the monks. That Benedictine tradition of quiet service to community, ‘How can you give back?’ That was important to me at Saint Ben’s and continues to call me into this work today.”
And while she’s proud to be recognized with the Decade Award, her motivation comes from within to advise kids who didn’t think they could go to college that, yes, they can.
“There’s no accolades,” she says. “It’s grueling. It’s hard. There are tears. And then it’s beautiful. There’s joy. And you get to see that and share in it.”