Thursday, October 01, 2015

Forging the Path Forward for DC's Adult Learners & Re-engaging Youth

 In today’s blog, we’d like to share the work of our colleagues at the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition that was highlighted as part of last week’s national Adult Education and Family Literacy Awareness Week. DCAYA’s connection to this work stems from our interest in stable, thriving families as foundations of youth success, and as a function of the disparate definitions of accessibility across the educational and workforce opportunities available to re-engaging youth. As councilmember David Grosso, Chairperson of the Committee on Education, aptly noted last week, “If children are not learning the skills they need to complete high school, and their parents do not have their high school education, then we are nowhere near breaking cycles of poverty and/or inequality.” DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson also underscored, “A 2002 estimate indicates that 37% of adults age 16 and over in the District of Columbia operate at the lowest defined level of literacy, or below basic. This compares to national averages of 21-23% of adults scoring at the below basic level.”

Clearly, the need to address the pervasive barriers to success for DC’s disconnected youth and adult learners is profound. We echo the sentiments of our DC AFLC partners in thanking the DC Council for championing the needs and potential of these populations of District residents.

On September 24, the Committee of the Whole and the Committee on Education hosted a joint hearing on “The State of Adult Education and Literacy Initiatives in the District.” The hearing—the first in recent memory to be dedicated solely to adult education—was an important opportunity to raise the issue of adult low literacy in the District. Councilmember Grosso acknowledged this fact by saying, “A conversation about adult literacy and adult education in the District of Columbia is long overdue.” The timing of the hearing was also significant given that the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition (DC AFLC) and allies across the city were celebrating Adult Education and Family Literacy Awareness Week (AEFL Week) from Sept. 21-26.

As over thirty adult learners, providers, partners and government witnesses testified, a clear picture of the adult education landscape emerged: the need is great, the services are essential, and additional support is needed. Despite the diversity in student populations and programs, providers and learners spoke to the common barriers presented by the high cost of transportation, lack of available childcare, under-resourced programing and limited provider capacity.

Providers also offered up a number of solution ideas, including expanding subsidized transportation to students enrolled in adult education programs, incentivizing evening childcare programs, and investing further in adult education. There was also near-unanimous support for the creation of a State Diploma for DC residents who pass the GED or complete the National External Diploma Program.

Finally, providers spoke to the need for a city-wide strategy for our adult education and workforce development programs. Lecester Johnson, CEO of Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School, summed up the problem by saying, “Providers who work with adult learners have been producing strong outcomes for years, but the disconnections between providers at the various levels have left too many gaps through which our residents continue to fall. Rather than a set of coordinated career pathways, DC residents make their best guess about which door to enter next in their pursuit of higher skills and self- and family-sustaining employment.” The recently enacted Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act gives the District a chance to address this issue head-on through the federally mandated creation of a state plan. A number of providers stressed the importance of capitalizing on this opportunity, and Councilmembers Grosso, Mendelson, and Silverman pressed the government witnesses on their plans moving forward.

The impact of low literacy can be felt across sectors. It can be seen in the emergency room after an adult wrongly administers medication because they can’t read the prescription bottle, and it can be seen in the rising homicide rate, as some turn to crime where no other opportunities exist. From an advocate’s perspective, it was encouraging that five councilmembers were consistently present throughout the five hour long hearing. Our hope is that attention to this important issue won’t wane as another AEFL Week comes and goes. Instead, as we enter a new Council session, we should make a commitment to long-term, systemic solutions that will create adult education and workforce development systems that work—and work well--for all District residents.

Jamie Kamlet is the Director of Advocacy and Communications for Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School (AoH), where she develops and implements strategies to engage policymakers, business and community leaders, members of the AoH community and the general public in promoting adult basic education in the District. AoH's mission is to provide high quality adult basic education in a manner that changes lives and improves our community. AoH is also a member of the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Making Strides Towards Summer Work Accessibility

This week, we'd like to highlight a promising new pilot that was conducted this summer as part of the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program. Through an innovative partnership between RSA, DOES, the Secondary Transition CoP, OSSE, DCPS, and select public charter schools, the first Summer Youth Employment Institute (SYEI) was formed to provide individualized supports and services for youth with disabilities to ensure a meaningful work experience in DC’s SYEP. 

We're excited by the success of this year's SYEI, and look forward to see this model of specialized support for under-served populations continued and replicated within SYEP to maximize meaningful summer work experiences for the  program's 18,000 participants. Read below for more insight into this innovative approach from our friends at SchoolTalk, who conducted this summer's SYEI!

Pilot Background

Working during high school has been found to contribute to positive youth development by increasing career awareness and employment skills, as well as the self-determination capacity necessary for all students to experience long-term, postsecondary success. Unfortunately, for youth with disabilities, especially those with more significant disabilities, accessing meaningful paid work experiences represents a major challenge.

The DC Secondary Transition Community of Practice (CoP), a collaborative group focused on improving postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities in the District of Columbia, recognizes that many DC youth with disabilities face significant barriers to employment, including summer employment. In response to this issue, DC’s Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and Department of Employment Services (DOES), with support from the Secondary Transition CoP, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), and select public charter schools, stepped up to a pilot program designed to provide the supports necessary for youth with disabilities to be successful in the DOES 2015 Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). 

Program Description

Through an RSA contract with SchoolTalk, Inc., The DC Summer Youth Employment Institute (SYEI) pilot provided 22 youth from several DCPS and charter schools with the individualized supports and services they needed in order to be successful in DC’s SYEP.

Participating youth began the summer with a weeklong employment preparation boot camp where they engaged in hands-on learning to help them begin to build the self-awareness and soft skills necessary for successful summer employment.

During the six weeks of SYEP, the youth worked at job sites across the city where they and their employers received extensive supports from RSA and SchoolTalk case managers. RSA provided individualized supports and services, including job coaches and assistive technology, while SchoolTalk case managers checked-in regularly with the youth, their employers, and their families, in order to help them problem solve any issues that arose in relationship to the work environment, job tasks, and individual supports and services.

At the conclusion of SYEP, the participating youth came back together for a three day closeout session to reflect on their experiences, and to connect their summer work to their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Individualized Plans for Employment (IPEs), and short-term and long-term employment goals.

Impact on Youth

All of the youth experienced increases in their independence, confidence, knowledge and skills related to work and the work environment. Youth demonstrated their growth through the documentation and discussion of their individual employment strengths, preferences, interests, and areas of need, as well as through the development of clear and realistic short- and long-term career goals. Twenty-one of the 22 program participants completed the SYEP portion of the project, and participated in closeout activities.

Three participating youth were also selected to work as youth leaders.  They supported the staff and their peers throughout the course of the pilot program.  Their primary responsibilities included training their peers and staff on assistive technology, helping their peers problem-solve any issues, interviewing their peers for a video project, helping the staff to design and facilitate activities during the close out, supporting their peers in developing presentations about their experiences, and developing presentations for their peers and employers about disability awareness and disclosure. 

Next Steps

Implementation of the SYEI pilot program represents an important step in working towards providing full access to meaningful, summer work experiences for all DC youth with disabilities. RSA and DOES are hoping to expand the program to support at least 50 youth with disabilities during the summer of 2016. The program will continue to identify and work toward eradicating challenges related to youth disability employment including transportation issues, the securing of appropriate and timely workplace accommodations and supports, employer disability awareness, the setting of high expectations, and accessibility to the DC SYEP application and youth portal.

We'd like to thank the partners involved in this year's Summer Youth Employment Initiative for their commitment to ensuring meaningful summer experiences for all District youth, and for their contribution to this blog:
RSA, DOES, the Secondary Transition CoP, OSSE, DCPS, PSCB, and SchoolTalk

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

New Report: Raise DC Progress Report - 2015

As summer has wound to a close, we've taken a bit of a break from blogging. As we gear back up for fall, please know we'll be back and as active as ever. In the meantime however, we do want to use this week to encourage you to check out the Raise DC Progress Report released just this morning

Raise DC’s 2015 Progress Report provides a critical snapshot of the District’s progress in
moving the needle on shared educational and workforce goals for children and youth, ages 0-24. The findings are positive, with nearly 60% of the metric indicators heading in the right direction. Equally important however, the data illuminated in this progress report will act as a guidepost for our efforts in the District. Access to actionable data is key to ensuring quality services, effective funding and a culture of continuous improvement. 

So take a look at the report, consider how this information can inform your efforts and if you haven't already, reach out and get involved in this key collective impact effort. By aligning efforts and resources we can truly move the needle on our shared goals. Every sector has a role to play in ensuring every child and youth in the District of Columbia succeed. 

What is Raise DC? Raise DC is the District’s collective impact partnership focused on improving the lives of all District youth through five high-level education and workforce goals. It engages more than 150 partners who collaborate through Change Networks and is supported by a Leadership Council of cross-sector executives. Together, Raise DC’s partners have put aside traditionally competitive roles to collaborate around a sole, shared mission: to ensure that all children and youth in DC have opportunities to succeed.e using the data illuminated in the progress report as a guidepost for our
Youth-Friendly DC will be back to the regularly scheduled Wednesday posts. So be sure to check back in next week!e

For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook,SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at in t

he District
, increasing access to actionable data so that organizations
our children and youth can improve their services.
Raise DC will continue using the data illuminated in the progress report as a guidepost for our
efforts in t
he District
, increasing access to actionable data so that organizations
our children and youth can improve their services.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Making the Most of My Summer with AALEAD!

This blog post was written by a District of Columbia youth, Ellen, who has been an active participant with Asian American LEAD for over ten years.  Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) is a regional non-profit organization that supports low-income and under-served Asian Pacific American youth with educational empowerment, identity development and leadership opportunities through after school, summer, and mentoring programs.  Ellen is a rising 10th grade student at School Without Walls High School in Washington, D.C.  

While many other youth around the nation are spending their summer break enjoying activities such as swimming, vacationing, attending camps, visiting relatives, or playing sports with their friends, I have chosen to spend my summer working for an organization that is very important to me, called Asian American LEAD.  Many times people ask me, “What does AALEAD mean to you?” I often reply that AALEAD is like my second family. From the time that I started participating in AALEAD in kindergarten until high school, I have had many experiences with AALEAD that have helped shape me into who I am today. There have been a lot of inspirational figures in AALEAD who have left a mark in my life.  They have also inspired me to do the same for my fellow AALEADers.
C:\Users\郭津津(Ellen Guo)\Pictures\AALEAD\Photo0501.jpgThis brings me to the topic of this summer and why I decided to work with AALEAD. The primary reason is that I want to help younger youth in the program and provide them with opportunities similar to what I had when I was their age. Going through my childhood memories, one of the most delightful and inspirational memories I had was spending time with the high school students in AALEAD.  While I was in elementary school, I took advantage of the many workshops and activities the high school students led for me, which I always found to be very fun and engaging.  

I personally think this summer program has been a great advantage for the younger youth in AALEAD because although I had experience with high school youth and their workshops, they didn’t cover the topic of transition from elementary school to middle school. As the oldest sibling in my family of three children, I wish I had people who went through the experience before me who could tell me what to expect. Since I wasn’t able to get this knowledge when I was transitioning from elementary school, I wanted to give back to those after me so that they could have this type of benefit.

C:\Users\郭津津(Ellen Guo)\Pictures\AALEAD\11741805_481951398652961_1775622246_n.jpgNot only was this summer program a great benefit for the elementary school youth, I also gained something from the experiences that I had leading workshops. I gained memories with the youth that will last a lifetime, and I have also improved upon my leadership skills. Before this summer, I was the quiet and reserved person who was always sitting in the darkest corner of the room and never eager to get out of my own comfort zone. However after this summer, I was able to find leadership skills in me that I never thought I had. Now, I am more open and comfortable talking to people I just met.

In addition to helping younger youth this summer, the AALEAD program introduced me to resumes, cover letters, and elevator speeches. My high school peers and I also did career exploration which led us to explore different careers in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  We focused on arts & technology, service & technology, and entrepreneurship & technology during our program.  This allowed me to visit many different places like Union Kitchen, Torpedo Factory, and Verizon to learn about career experiences and what a work place is like. I have learned many things this summer from how to develop an effective presentation and how to how to write a resume. 

If AALEAD didn’t have a summer program like this I wouldn’t have done anything with my summer. Memories would not be created for me, and I would not have gained anything from sitting at home and spending time on my electronic devices.  I am grateful for the experience of having been a part of the AALEAD summer program as not only a participant and an employee, but also as a leader.

DCAYA would like to thank Ellen for sharing her experience with AALEAD. If you'd like to learn more about the services and supports provided by AALEAD be sure to visit their homepage today!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Shana's Pathway to Excellence

This week we wanted to bring you an update on our advocacy to create a State Diploma for GED and NEDP recipients. You might remember our effort late last year to support an OSSE proposal that would establish a state-issued diploma for those students who had pursued these alternative pathways to a high school credential. While OSSE’s initial proposal was shelved by the State Board of Education (SBOE) until they could dig deeper into the new policy’s implications, discussions resumed last week at a SBOE public meeting

Eight adult learners from Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School testified on the rigor of the new GED, the persistence and dedication they must demonstrate to pass the test, and the injustice in the fact that GED certificates hold less value than a high school diploma in the eyes of many employers and postsecondary institutions.

While we could use our blog this week to harken back to the hard facts that support the creation of a State Diploma in the District, we know the story of Shana Moses, a disconnected youth who struggled for nearly a decade to attain a high school credential, speaks to the heart of the issue much better than we could:

Shana Moses, far right, testifies before the State Board of Education.

My name is Shana Moses, and I’m a 30 year old Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School student and a Ward 8 resident.  I’m ecstatic to express my feeling towards DC offering a State Diploma.

I have personal experience of attending a GED program and being able to overcome certain barriers in my life such as becoming a parent at the age of 16, having to receive public assistance, and working ends-meets jobs that would hire me without having a high school diploma.  I tried to go back to school and finish, but got discouraged when Anacostia High School tried to make me do a grade all over again that I had already completed.  It made me lose hope.  I felt like I was never going to become anything other than another statistic, another young black girl with no education, just having kids.  That’s how the world looks at situations like mine.

Even though I had no high school diploma, I was able to receive many certifications and learned that I have many talents.  This pushed me not to give up, and I hoped my story could help someone else. 

One of my biggest discouragements was when I was told that the GED test would be changing. All of the old test scores would be of no use because the test would be upgraded as well as computerized.  I had passed all the subjects but math, and procrastinated to finish this last section of the test.  I was extremely disappointed in myself.  I couldn’t be mad at anybody but Shana.

Academy of Hope has given me so much positive energy, great support, and mentorship.  As my fellow classmates and I aim for our GED certificate or NEDP diploma, we work just as hard, if not harder than the average high school student.  It’s harder for GED and NEDP students because most of us haven’t been to school in decades and have to be taught from beginning to end in order to pass.  I am learning subjects that I haven’t seen for several years, so you could say for most of my class it’s like a baby just learning to crawl. 

Moreover, earning a passing grade on the new GED is equivalent to earning a high school diploma.  GED 2014 has been revised to be more difficult and in line with requirements of colleges and employers, and it has become an online test that is based on the common core state standards. GED students work extremely hard for this credential and are acquiring skills that meet or exceed 60% of graduating high school students.  We work hard on a day to day basis preparing ourselves to pass the exam.  

Offering the State Diploma would motivate the students even more by allowing them to have more confidence in passing the exam and to reach a goal that many have tried to achieve many times before.  The State Diploma is one of the best ideas that could be thought of for adult learners. It opens more doors to achieving the excellence we’ve earned.

To learn more about how you can support Shana and other #DiplomaBound youth through the creation of a State Diploma, please contact DCAYA Policy Analyst, Amy Dudas (

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Summer Learning Loss: How Communities Are Reversing the Trend

In her June 19 Summer Learning Day message, First Lady Michelle Obama thanked communities for their summertime investments in youth: “Summer shouldn’t just be a vacation. Instead, it should be a time to get ahead, to branch out and learn new skills, to have new experiences…and for anyone who’s fallen behind, it’s a time to catch up on lessons they missed.”

Research shows that summers without quality learning opportunities put our nation’s youth at risk for falling behind – year after year – in core subjects like math and reading. These losses over the summer are cumulative and contribute significantly to the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income kids.

At the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), we continue to develop and provide resources around strengthening and expanding summer learning programs in communities. With the support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, our new report, Accelerating Achievement Through Summer Learning is an essential resource for program providers, education leaders, policymakers, and funders who are making important decisions around summer learning programs as a way to accelerate student achievement.

The report profiles thirteen diverse, replicable summer learning program models and demonstrates how these programs address a variety of K-12 education priorities to deliver strong outcomes for children, youth, and educators. As described in the report, we know a lot about the power of summer learning for students and teachers.

  • Summer learning programs can erase early reading deficits. More than 80 percent of low-income youth in this country are not proficient in reading by the end of third grade, making them more than four times as likely to drop out of high school as their peers to who reach this critical benchmark. K-3 summer learning programs have been shown not only to mitigate summer learning losses in reading in the early grades, but to accelerate skill development to get young people up to grade level by third grade.
  • High-quality summer learning programs level the college and career playing field. Alarming data on the skilled workforce pipeline and need for remedial coursework in two- and four-year colleges have created a national sense of urgency around work-embedded learning, apprenticeships and college preparation programs, particularly for first-generation attenders. Summer youth employment programs are proving critical to keeping students productively engaged and learning, making meaningful contributions to their community, learning valuable job skills, and exploring potential careers.
  • Pre-service and in-service teachers want to make the most of their summers. Quality teaching is consistently linked to successfully closing achievement gaps, but most teachers today have between one and two years of experience. Summer learning programs are an increasingly likely place to find the kinds of pipelines into and through the teaching profession that are working. Offering training, mentorship, leadership, and ownership of their work, community-based programs give new teachers additional time to hone their skills, refine lesson plans, and build deeper relationships with students.

Many kinds of high-quality learning opportunities during the summer can make a difference in stemming learning loss. These opportunities can be voluntary or mandatory, at school, community organizations, or even at home. And we know that “quality” is well-defined and rooted in research. A major study from the RAND Corporation shows that individualized academic instruction, parental involvement, and smaller class sizes are a few components of high-quality programs that produce positive results for young people. The “Best Practices in Summer Learning for Middle and High School Youth” resource from NSLA and the New York Life Foundation is an online guide in text and video offering effective ways of engaging older youth in summer learning.

Across the country, NSLA is seeing many states and cities embrace summer learning as a key strategy in helping their students make measurable academic progress.  We hope that if you haven’t already, you will take the pledge to keep kids learning and place your program on our interactive map. Together, we can ensure that students have the opportunity to engage in meaningful learning all year long.

Rachel Gwaltney is the Director of Policy and Partnerships for the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA). She leads development and implementation of services, projects, and partnerships that strengthen summer learning policy and build capacity of state and national leaders and organizations. Learn more about DCAYA's fantastic partner, the National Summer Learning Association, at And consider attending their Summer Changes Everything annual conference, October 12-14 in Baltimore, MD.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

SYEP: The Promise of Program Year 2015

With the 2015 Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (MBSYEP) starting on Monday, and with 15,000 District youth set to participate, we’d like to take the opportunity to talk about the program’s big changes this year: an expansion of youth served (now through age 24) and some exciting new strategies to provide extra supports for youth. Last Wednesday, the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs hosted a Public Roundtable on the MBSYEP to call attention to the planning of the 2015 program, especially for the additional 1,000 youth aged 22 to 24 taking part in the program.

Photo credit: Office of Youth Programs' Instagram
Despite the overwhelmingly positive and constructive tenor of the Roundtable, the MBSYEP still struggles to fully shake its association with a troubled past (you might remember a particularly chaotic year marked by cost overruns and warehoused youth). But as the country’s second-largest summer youth employment program (second only to New York’s 36,000 youth served annually), huge strides have been made in righting the course of the program. When fully utilized by employers and youth, the online MBSYEP portal and matching system can be powerful tools for conveying expectations upfront and ensuring a six-week placement that both parties are happy about. The Office of Youth Programs spearheaded the effort to provide free bus and rail travel to youth who frequently cite transportation costs as a barrier to their success. And a new pilot program between DOES, RSA, and DCAYA member SchoolTalk will ensure that SYEP participants with disabilities will be connected with the supports necessary to have a meaningful and productive summer job placement.

Maybe most notably though, DOES spoke of their plans to provide the 1,000 youth 22-24 that are joining the MBSYEP this year with targeted work placements based on an individual assessment that will be given at the start of this year’s program. The assessments will ask youth about their educational attainment, career goals and interests, work readiness skills and any barriers they face to attaining full time employment. Data gleaned from such assessments will allow DOES to connect these older youth to supports beyond their work placements such as childcare, transportation subsidies, and help navigating TANF. Even more exciting (and impressive) DOES has cultivated the support of 120 SYEP host employers that have signaled a willingness to hire participants at the conclusion of the 6-week program.

This connection to long term employment is critical. The unemployment rate for DC residents ages 20-24 stands at 12.3%-- more than double the national rate of unemployment. The figure jumps to 23.2% when calculated for Black or African American residents in the same age range. With such staggering unemployment, particularly among our most traditionally under-resourced youth, it is a critical time to ensure that our city offers an abundance of entry-points into sustainable career pathways. Going beyond its long-standing functions of providing a productive summer activity, and offering supplemental income to youth and their families, the strategies being put in place this year build on best practices that are employed across the country.

With the DC Council’s addition of a requirement to conduct an SYEP evaluation this budget season, our program stands to join the ranks of Boston and New York as a beacon of data-driven decision-making and innovative strategies to meet the needs of the hardest to serve. For example, Boston has been able to demonstrate through the evaluation of their summer employment program that their combination of a paid work experience with quality supervision, a well-designed learning plan, and connections to supportive services can reduce economically disadvantaged youths’ involvement in risky, violent, and delinquent behaviors. Meanwhile, New York City’s SYEP has proven successful at increasing school attendance, graduation rates, and persistence within education and the workforce through a program design that marries job placement with instruction dedicated to education and training through workshops on topics related to time management, financial literacy, workplace readiness and etiquette, career planning and finding employment. While adjusting data collection efforts and systems to be more robust can be a heavy lift for all involved, the narratives they provide about cities like Boston and New York serving their youth efficiently and appropriately are invaluable.

With all of the planning and preparation on the part of host employers and the Office of Youth Programs at DOES coming to a close for this summer’s program, we’re looking forward to a solid 2015 MBSYEP. The program offers one of the greatest opportunities within the District for young people to step into the world of work. Its quality, capacity and, ultimately, its success matter. So as the program kicks off, and the weeks roll by, be sure to share your MBSYEP stories with DCAYA. We want to hear from you what’s working and where to focus for next year!

For more information on DCAYA's Youth Employment work,contact Amy Dudas, DCAYA Policy Analyst.