Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A field trip opportunity unlike any other

This weekend is the grand opening weekend of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The newest museum is the 19th one in the family of Smithsonian institutions. And with all the coverage about the historical significance of this museum, we thought it would be worth taking a look of the power of a simple field trip to a museum.

Several years ago, EducationNext published The Educational Value of Field Trips. The piece begins with a brief history of the field trip once being a cornerstone of public education in America. Schools saw the benefits of these experiences out of the classrooms justified the costs.
With field trips, public schools viewed themselves as the great equalizer in terms of access to our cultural heritage.
The piece goes on to discuss the decline of culturally enriching field trips over the past decade or two. There are a variety of factors beyond the obvious financial ones, including a focus on increased time needed to prep students for standardized test, as well as a shift from "enrichment" to "reward" field trips.

EducationNext highlighted the challenge of making the case for this particular type of enrichment activity because of a lack of "rigorous evidence about how field trips affect students". They then presented research from " the first large-scale randomized-control trial" to examine what students learn from visiting, in this case, an art museum.*

The Crystal Bridges study, done by researchers from the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions, involved 10,912 K-12 students & 489 teachers at 123 different schools. To summarize their findings, Jay P. Greene, 21st Century Chair in Education Reform and head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions, said the following:
We found that students who attended a school tour at Crystal Bridges demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of tolerance, had more historical empathy and developed a taste for being a cultural consumer in the future. We also found that these benefits were much larger, in general, for students from rural areas or high-poverty schools, as well as minority students,
The historical empathy piece particularly sticks out given the current political climate and culture, where diversity and divisiveness seem to be ever present topics and challenges. With NMAAHC's historic focus on elevating the African American story and experience in the United States, it provides a distinct opportunity to tackle some of the tougher conversations, like one which a recent Los Angeles Times piece wrote about, How to talk about slavery.
So, as a network of youth advocates and providers, the opening of NMAAHC provides a unique opportunity. One that truly supports the power of emotional learning, as evidenced by a 2011  report commissioned by the Sovereign Hill Museums Association in Australia, Student Learning in Museums [ PDF]:
When looking at emotional learning, students expressed a desire to be emotionally
connected, while at the same time not emotionally confronted. The students in this
study indicated that they welcomed opportunities to be fully engaged with
provocative questions, fascinating and puzzling exhibits and clear, well-structured
and accessible information (Kelly and Groundwater-Smith, 2009)
This, along with other findings and research, indicate museums provide a somewhat unique space and context for students to get to know subject matter better, in ways that a classroom simply does not.  As a network, we encourage you to keep thinking about how you can integrate the opportunities of NMAAHC and the many other local institutions.

Because, as the Crystal Bridge study demonstrated- even at a micro level- students who went on a school trip to their museum, "experience improvements in their knowledge of and ability to think critically about art, display stronger historical empathy, develop higher tolerance, and are more likely to visit such cultural institutions as art museums in the future."

So consider taking some time as a family, program/organization or just as an engaged DC resident to experience NMAAHC. Because as  Lonnie G. Bunch, III, NMAAHC's founding director, said:
This Museum will tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture. This is America’s Story and this museum is for all Americans. 
 So if you or your youth  haven't taken a field trip in a while, we know a place you might want to visit.

*While the National Museum of African American History and Culture isn't solely an art museum, it is the "only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture", which includes art in its collection. So while the study might not speak directly to all of NMAAHC's content and subjects, this study is definitely relevant to some of it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Supporting Disconnected Youth & Adult Learners this #AEFLWeek

In today’s blog, we’d like to share the work of our colleagues at the Adult and Family Literacy Coalition (DC AFLC) @DCAdultEdu. 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, noted in a hearing last session, “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.” At that same hearing, DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson 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. Read on to learn more about how we can align our work in the coming advocacy season!

Washington, DC, is a city of extremes in education. On the one hand, the District has one of the most highly educated populations in the United States. According to research from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 71 percent of all jobs in the District of Columbia will require additional education beyond a high school credential—either some postsecondary education or training—by 2018.

At the same time, one in three DC adults have trouble reading a map or completing a job application, and more than 21 percent of DC’s working-age adults—more than 60,000 individuals—lack a high school diploma.

Low literacy and low educational attainment are root causes of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and poor health. Adults without a high school diploma are more than seven times as likely to live in poverty as are those with a credential. National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week (September 26-October 1) is an opportunity to raise awareness around the need for and impact of adult education and celebrate the accomplishments of DC’s adult learners.

Members of DC AFLC will also spend the week highlighting the barriers adult learner face in their pursuit of an education and policy solutions that seek to remove those roadblocks. At the top of that list is the lack of access to affordable transportation. A recent survey of nearly 1000 adult learners across the District conducted by the Deputy Mayor for Education’s Transportation Task Force found that 62% of adult learners depend on public transportation for their commute to and from school (52% on bus and 10% on rail). Of those adult learners, 41% say their biggest concern about their commute is the cost of transportation, and more than a quarter say that issues with transportation have caused them to miss school occasionally or often.

Unfortunately, adult education providers have few options for providing transportation assistance to learners. The majority of learners enrolled in classes fall outside the age range for the Kids Ride Free Program, and while DDOT offers subsidized tokens for K-12 schools, that subsidy is not offered to adult education providers. Therefore, any assistance is reliant on the budget of the providers—often tight themselves.

When adult learners choose to come back to school, they are making a significant investment to do so. They invest their time: learners often arrive to class after they’ve already dropped their kids off at school and/or finished a shift at work. And when classes are over, they head back out to retrace their steps. They invest their energy: knowing that a credential is the key to moving closer to their goals, learners walk through the doors on their own volition. They are not mandated to do so, and it’s up to them to return the next day. And they invest resources from their limited budgets.

Adult learners are investing in their future—and that of their family—when they choose to come back to school. Likewise, The District has made an important investment in adult education. Now we need to go further and ensure that adult learners have the tools they need to get to school, so they can move up and move on to the next step in their lives. This AEFL Week, DC AFLC members will be asking DC Council to do just that.

For more information on how you can get involved in National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week or the work of the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition (DC AFLC), please contact Jamie Kamlet at

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

#YOUthCountDC 2016: The 2nd Annual Homeless Youth Census is September 16-24!

This week’s blog is a look ahead to the 2nd Annual Homeless Youth Census, set to take place District-wide from September 16-24, 2016. 

We reached out to our friends at the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) to help respond to some frequently asked questions about the census: what it is, who is counted, and what is its impact.

What is the Homeless Youth Census?
In May 2014, the DC Council passed the End Youth Homelessness Amendment Act, funding an expansion of accessible youth-friendly services. The Act also mandated an annual census of District youth experiencing homelessness to address the lack of consistent and reliable data. The Homeless Youth Census (HYC) is an annual count and survey of unaccompanied minors and transition-aged youth experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.

The first census was conducted by the Department of Human Services (DHS) in close collaboration with TCP over a nine day period at the end of August 2015. The census revealed there were some 545 unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness in the District of Columbia – almost half of whom identified as LGBTQ. This marked the first time that we have had such a thorough estimate of youth who are homeless (and particularly those identifying as LGBTQ) and the importance of having this knowledge cannot be overstated: it has implications for expanding services, targeting outreach and fine-tuning supportive services.

How Does Doing a Census Help End Youth Homelessness?
During the Council’s performance oversight hearing for DHS last February, DCAYA testified that the agency and community partners were on track in their expansion of services to youth, but that continued progress was going to require added investment in the coming fiscal year. 

Because of the availability of data from the HYC, advocates had a strong case to make at the DHS budget hearing in April for scaling up prevention services, as well as adding to the supply of crisis beds and transitional and independent living spaces for youth. The Council and the Bowser administration committed $2.3 million in the FY2017 budget in new investments for these services. This represented a significant increase over previous years and one which can largely be attributed to the use of census data.

Conducting the census on an annual basis enables the District to track data and trends over time^, which can shed light on the interventions and support needed to stem the tide of youth homelessness. The census process and its results strengthen advocacy efforts to annually secure the public funding necessary to reach the District-wide goal of ensuring homelessness among unaccompanied minors and transition-aged youth is rare, brief and non-recurring by 2020.

Who is Counted?
Through surveys conducted by street outreach professionals, in drop-in centers and meal programs, and though other community partnerships, the HYC collects information about demographics, housing and homelessness status, education and employment status, health and well-being, and system involvement (e.g., child welfare, juvenile justice) across the following youth populations:
  • Unaccompanied Minors (under the age of 18) living apart from their parents or guardians, excluding those in the physical custody of the District
  • Transition-Aged Youth (age 18-24) who are “economically and emotionally detached from their parents and who are unstably housed”
  • “Literally Homeless” Youth who are residing on the street or in emergency shelter and transitional housing situations
  • “Housing Insecure” Youth who are residing in non-permanent housing situations, including “couch-surfing” and “doubled up”, which are often identified as risk factors for experiencing literal homelessness
  • Subpopulation Information is also captured (e.g.,  pregnant and parenting, gender expression, sexual orientation) to better understand population trends.

Of fundamental importance, the results of the census show us that at any given time there are hundreds of youth moving from couch to couch, and when their options run short, shelter to shelter. 

How Can I Help?
The HYC equips youth, advocates and service providers with vital knowledge about youth in crisis. Each new community partnership helps to expand that knowledge and work toward ending the crisis. 

The 2nd Annual HYC is set to take place District-wide September 16-24, 2016:
  1. To sign up as a community partner, please contact Eileen Kroszner, Program Officer, at the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness: or 202-543-5298
  2. For HYC survey sites and more information, including how you can be counted if you are a youth experiencing homelessness, please visit

track data and trends over time: For example, HYC survey data help to identify patterns in responses and factors which affect how youth experience homelessness, including special subpopulations (i.e., LGBTQ Youth, Mental Health, Justice System involvement); to identify patterns in responses describing services used and gaps in services; and, quantify and qualify the scope of minor and young adult homelessness to guide resource decision-making.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Youth Summer Jobs Programs: Aligning Ends and Means

This week we’re bringing you a guest post from Martha Ross, a fellow at the Brooking Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. Her newest paper Youth Summer Jobs Programs: Aligning Ends and Means, which she co-authors with Richard Kazis, takes an important look at the intentions and outcomes of summer youth employment programs from a national perspective. Read on for highlights of their work!

Summer jobs programs for youth have experienced an upsurge of investment since the 2007-2009 recession and the associated spikes in unemployment among young people. The well-documented drop in teen and young adult employment rates has raised concerns that it is becoming more difficult for young people to find pathways into the labor market, particularly for African-American and Latino teens living in neighborhoods with fewer job opportunities. Summer jobs programs offer a paycheck, employment experiences, and other organized activities in the service of multiple goals: increasing participants’ income, developing young people’s skills and networks to improve their job prospects, and offering constructive activities to promote positive behavior. The District of Columbia is one of a handful of jurisdictions that retained their summer jobs programs after the loss of dedicated federal funding in the late 1990s with the passage of the Workforce Investment Act.
Summer jobs programs are often one of the most high-profile youth initiatives of a given jurisdiction.  They typically last about six weeks and provide work opportunities to teens and young adults who otherwise might struggle to find jobs. Recent research finds that summer jobs programs have positive effects: reducing violence, incarceration, and mortality and improving academic outcomes.
But a strong program does not automatically follow from good intentions. Program design and implementation carry the day and determine the results. Although the research is encouraging, it is not robust enough to support generalized statements about program effectiveness, and it has not yet conclusively linked summer jobs programs to improved employment outcomes.
Summer jobs programs are complex endeavors to design and deliver within a very compressed time frame. No matter how dedicated the organization and staff operating the program, the demands of recruiting, assessing, placing, monitoring, and paying so many young people at one time are significant. In the absence of agreed-upon standards and best practices, quality is likely to vary considerably—both between cities and within a city, depending on the worksite or partner organization helping to run the program.
In a new paper, Youth Summer Jobs Programs: Aligning Ends and Means, my co-author Richard and Kazis and I assert that we need better answers to some fundamental questions: how much should we reasonably expect from a summer jobs program? For whom are the impacts the greatest? What are the critical program elements to improve a young person’s skills and job prospects?
Based on interviews and a scan of the literature, we identified a core set of practices that support high-quality programs, divided into two categories.
Program design
  • Recruiting employers and worksites and sustaining their participation to provide the maximum number of job opportunities.
  • Matching young people with age- and skill-appropriate opportunities, differentiating by age, work readiness, and youth interests so that no one goes to a workplace unprepared to succeed.

  • Preparing young people to succeed and learn new skills by providing training and professional development on work readiness and other topics, including financial capability.

  • Supporting youth and supervisors to maximize learning and development by structuring the job placement and monitoring progress over the summer to address problems that arise and provide guidance to supervisors on working with young people.

  • Connecting the summer program to other educational, employment, and youth development services so that the summer program both feeds into and draws from other community resources.

Capacity and infrastructure

  • Ensuring sufficient staff capacity and capability to deliver critical program elements at a high level of quality, executing with clear roles, sufficient staff training, and coordination across partner organizations.

  • Deploying information technologies to improve program management and communication among partners and participants, including information management systems to streamline enrollment and job matching and to strengthen tracking and evaluation.

  • Simplifying coordination and strengthening training through partnership management tools, such as sample job descriptions and assessment tools that help structure the work experience and support youth and worksite supervisors.

We concluded that it is harder than most people think to run a high-quality summer youth employment program and to measure progress towards the goal of helping young people improve their skills and job prospects. We also concluded that it is both easy and unwise to expect too much of a summer jobs program, especially for the most vulnerable and unprepared young people, who typically need more intensive and longer-term services. Ideally, the current wave of energy and investments in summer jobs programs around the country will inspire and empower cities to step back from the day-to-day management of a summer jobs program and assess their program design and organizational capacity against the ultimate goal:  helping young people succeed in their communities and in the workplace.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Back to School!

As youth and their families all over DC prepare to head back to their classrooms (and for students in 10 DC Public Schools, they're already back), we thought we'd post some back-to-school tips.

Safe Track
DC Public Schools released a document to highlight the impact of WMATA's Safe Track plan on the ability of students to get to school in a timely fashion. And while the document highlights which schools each "Surge" could affect, between updates to Safe Track since it began as well as varying ways in which schools are accommodating students that are adversely affected, we recommend student parents, guardians, and caregivers reach out directly to understand how each school will handle any effects Safe Track may have on a student's attendance and punctuality, despite alternative planning for transportation.

School Supplies Drives
Keep an eye out for a drive to collect school supplies in your neighborhood and even your workplace. In the building where our offices are located, there's a drive to support our neighbors, the students at Thomson Elementary School.

Not sure where to start? Check out DCPS' site on how you can give directly to a school near you.

DC Hunger Solutions is a great resource. They include information about the School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, as well as After School Suppers and Snacks options.

In addition to guiding visitors to these programs, they also have robust advocacy and informational resources on their website.

Out of School Time
As you may know, DCPS will be offering Out of School Time (OST) programs in 53 schools this school year. A number of our member organizations also offer OST programs throughout the year.

If you are considering enrichment activities for your youth, don't just check out either of the two links above, but please reach out to  us if you would like to be engaged in our OST advocacy efforts, as well.

DC Re-Engagement Center
For some of our older youth from 16 to 24 years old, the DC Re-Engagement Center is a great resource to connect them to. They provide support and services for DC youth who are not enrolled in school or other educational programs and who do not have a high school diploma or credential.

As we enter this final stretch of the summer, we hope you all stay cool and stay hydrated. We hope some of the links above are helpful and please share them forward!

- Your friends at DCAYA