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Teens bridge port ties

Twin Ports freshmen bridged the gap between the Superior and Duluth communities Tuesday night. About 20 Superior teens literally crossed the Blatnik Bridge to attend a Kids Plus Youth Leadership Academy event at the Inn on Lake Superior with Dulu...

Twin Ports freshmen bridged the gap between the Superior and Duluth communities Tuesday night.

About 20 Superior teens literally crossed the Blatnik Bridge to attend a Kids Plus Youth Leadership Academy event at the Inn on Lake Superior with Duluth students.

The students heard presentations about how the two communities are attempting to work together for the benefit of both cities. Then they sat down in groups to build Popsicle stick bridges and to get to know one another.

The annual Kids Plus event has been bringing a class of Duluth and Superior freshman together for the past four years.

The event grew out of requests by young people who were curious to meet the teens who lived across the harbor, said Lynn Haglin, Kids Plus program director.

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Often kids from the two communities don't interact with one another because the activities they're involved in are available within their own communities. Sports teams from Duluth and Superior play against each other, but that doesn't give kids many chances to form friendships, she said.

Duluth and Superior have a lot of connections -- 50,000 cars cross the Bong and Blatnik bridges every day and 26 percent of Duluth's work force lives in Superior. Four percent of Superior's work force comes from Duluth, Haglin said.

People from both cities have distrusted each other in the past. That distrust goes back to the building of Duluth's ship canal, but the communities work together in emergencies and benefit each other economically when they work together. Both communities have to see their similarities -- both have hardworking people and experience crime and poverty, said Jeff Papas, Duluth chief communications liaison in a speech to students.

The bridging event helps to break down barriers and allows the youths to see they have similar interests no matter that they live in different states, she said.

"It's lots of fun," said Dani Barto, of Superior.

She got to know the three Duluth teens she worked with on the project.

"This is one of the first times I really have communicated with anyone from Duluth, and I'm really glad to have the opportunity," she said.

Barto has visited Duluth, but only for shopping, she said.

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Kids Plus is a program offered to area freshmen through the Northland Foundation. Students are chosen for the academy by eighth grade teachers, guidance counselors and principals. Often the students are kids who aren't involved with sports or other activities that give them a chance to develop leadership skills.

The leadership academy gives them the opportunity to learn about their leadership style.

Through Kids Plus they identify their abilities and skills and see how to put them to use in a group setting. Most Kids Plus events focus on the students getting to know more about their community.

During one activity the youths explore a section of their city to see what sorts of businesses, buildings and people live and work in the community. Another activity has them planning and implementing a community service activity.

Tuesday's event was about making connections with another community. After hearing a presentation from Superior Mayor Dave Ross and Papas about how the cities attempt to work together, the students broke into groups made up of kids from both communities and assigned themselves tasks in building their stick bridges.

Each group had to decide which type of bridge structure to make and develop a presentation of what their bridge represented.

It was interesting figuring out how to build the bridge, said Skyler Johnson of Duluth.

His group made the Bonding Bridge to bond the friendships between the two communities.

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"It crosses a gap that looks like it can't be crossed like the divide between Duluth and Superior," he said.

Before Tuesday night he didn't know any teens from Superior. It's good to have people with different views working together, he said.

Other students already have friends and relatives living across the harbor.

Shoua Xoing of Superior has siblings who live in Duluth and enjoys spending time with them in their city, but she enjoyed meeting additional Duluth teens.

"I think it's fun. It's nice to meet other kids," she said. "This is a good experience because we're learning how to become leaders and get our opinions out there."

The youth leadership academy is a good program, said Kevin Graham of Duluth. It's good that the city is interested in youths and encouraging future leaders. People from both cities need to see past differences and cooperate. They need to help each other out instead of being stubborn, he said.

"I think it's a good way to involve our youth in something meaningful," he said.

Anna Kurth covers education. Call her at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail akurth@superiortelegram.com .

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