Reclaiming Our Nation's Disconnected Youth
This week, the Campaign for Youth, along with United Way, First Focus, Forum for Youth Investment, and the National Collaboration for Youth partnered to host the Congressional briefing "Reclaiming our Nation's Disconnected Youth." The briefing featured a cross-section of community leaders discussing their efforts to employ integrated dropout prevention and recovery approaches that support young people in achieving successful life outcomes. Participants also heard real-life experiences from three young people who at one point were disconnected from both education and work. With the country facing not just an upcoming election, but tough budget battles and changing priorities, the event was an opportunity for pointed questions and real discussion of racial inequality, education, and improving youth outcomes.
To bring down high youth unemployment rates, Bill Hanbury, CEO of United Way of the National Capital Area, advocated stronger connections between local non-profits, youth, and employers, citing the need for increased funding from philanthropic groups for programs that provide educational and vocational services for young people in order to increase the scale of impact.
State policy can also make a big difference in providing youth with increased opportunities. For example, Texas allows high school students to finish high school up to age 26, an age that is higher than any other state's policy. Dr. Daniel King, superintendent of the Parr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District of Texas, is a proponent of dropout recovery strategies and engaging youth and young adults - and is a leader in establishing a systemic effort that is working in Southwest Texas. These focus on encouraging youth who are high school dropouts to reenroll in high school, or dually enroll in high school and community college. The students who are reconnected are dealing with many issues including parenting. To assist students, the school district in partnership with the community colleges, the workforce investment board and other community resources also offer childcare and social services for lower-income or struggling adults. This strategy has removed the heavy emphasis on test-taking skills and instead focuses on helping students develop skills that prepare them for future careers.
Ernest Dorsey, Assistant Director of Youth Services for the Mayor's Office of Employment Development (MOED) in Baltimore City and a key leader with the Communities Collaborating to Reconnect Youth Network, emphasized exposure to jobs, internships, activities, and role models for youth in high poverty and low -income communities. Dorsey leads Baltimore's city-wide approach to dropout recovery and reengagement, which includes alternative high schools, youth opportunity centers, and a large scale work program. These initiatives include multiple flexible programs and interventions, all targeted to support struggling and out-of-school youth. Dorsey also noted the significant impact the city's Youth Opportunity program has had in four key areas. For example, through its impact study, MOED found that its YO youth participants had increased wage gains and number of secondary school credentials earned than their youth counterparts that had not successfully participated in the program. In addition, they also saw a reduction in teen pregnancy incidence and recidivism. As Clarence Shaw of Washington, D.C. said after participating in the Year Up program, "at the end of the day, it's all about money. It's all about funding. You're looking at a product of an amazing system that does work."
There is so much work happening on the ground to take our youth from street corners or being idle at home on the couch and back to classrooms and into the workforce. It takes dedication and hard work on the part of youth and the community members who are advocating for funding and innovative new approaches that work. The Campaign for Youth is an alliance of organizations working to make a difference for the millions of youth who are disconnected from education, employment and opportunity. We invite you to learn more about the Campaign for Youth and find ways to get involved in the ongoing discussion about how we can change the situation for our youth and our future.