Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Re-Engagement Center On the Horizon for DC Youth

Excitingly, Washington DC is on the verge of seizing an opportunity to re-engage its 7,000 school dropouts in education - joining some 15 other cities in this pursuit. The innovative D.C. Re-Engagement Center, which has been in the planning stages for the last several months, is slated to fully open in the fall of 2014.

Re-Engagement Centers fill a critical niche for disconnected youth ages 16-24 by providing a one-stop location for assessment of education status, referral to one or more school completion options, and support to re-enroll and stay enrolled. Centers also conduct outreach to find the young people who need opportunities to finish high school and move on with their education. The National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families has documented that centers in 13 cities supported re-enrollment of more than 6,000 youth and young adults over the past two school years. 73% of these youth stayed with their new school placement for at least a year or graduated with a credential.

The formula for launching a successful center is both straightforward and complex. The latter, in part because public policy concentrates on ensuring the success of students who remain in school, and only rarely focuses on the 25%+ who do not.

For a citywide Re-Engagement Center, the straightforward portion of the formula involves:
  • Leadership and support from the top, from mayors, superintendents, foundation executives, and leaders of workforce agencies and community colleges, as well as a clearly designated lead implementation agency;
  • Newly identified or re-programmed resources, often stemming from the per-pupil funds districts recoup once students re-enroll;
  • A youth-friendly physical or virtual portal – for outreach to known dropouts, and to welcome dropouts looking for options;
  •  Staff with an orientation toward youth development, capable of building strong relationships with youth who have the most updated information at their fingertips about the range of referral options for education and non-academic services for disengaged youth; and
  •  A range of alternative school options at which former dropouts can complete their education and get launched toward next steps in schooling and employment.

The District is following the success formula to an “R” (for re-engagement). The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) commissioned a feasibility study to draw upon promising national practices and to situate plans in the local context. The Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) has stepped forward to serve as the lead agency. The Department of Employment Services (DOES) identified space for an initial physical hub location in its headquarters building in one of the highest-need neighborhoods in the city – thus co-locating education and workforce services. Together, DME, OSSE, and DOES are on their way to a well-functioning partnership. In addition, a working group of the Raise DC partnership that focuses on this population is actively exploring innovative virtual options to make it easy for tech-savvy dropouts to connect with re-engagement counselors and school options.

With so many pieces coming into place for scaled-up and purposeful re-engagement efforts in D.C., the future is bright indeed. District residents, youth advocates, and service providers can lend a hand to the project partners by sending young people to the Center once it opens. Innovators and education entrepreneurs can help tackle the forthcoming need for more high-quality school completion options, as current options will prove insufficient when re-engagement takes off.

And -- in a capital city where messaging is sometimes paramount -- launching the DC Re-Engagement Center will send a positive public message about the importance the District places on re-engagement. At the policy and institutional level, establishing a center represents a firm embrace of an “all students achieve” agenda, and affords an opportunity to maximize the return on investments made prior to the time that students dropped out.

Andrew Moore is the Senior Fellow at the National League of Cities' Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. The YEF Institute helps municipal leaders take action on behalf of the children, youth, and families in their community. 

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

From Dropout to College Graduate

Someone once told me in life that everything that happens to you in your success story happens to you because of the decisions you make. I do not know if these were words of wisdom I heard from a family member or a line from primetime news special. Not really understanding these “words of wisdom” in my younger years, I now know the effect that they can have on your life.

Like most young people in Southeast DC, whether they admit it or not, I grew up in a low-income household. My home was structured, but money for essentials in life got stretched most of the time. I grew up where many older kids did not have High School diplomas and dropping out and getting a job was a necessity. My family always pushed me to believe that the only way that you can make it in this world is by exposure. Since the age of eight, I was enrolled in various types of programs that allowed me to see life differently from the way it was viewed by some of my childhood friends.

By the time I had finished 8th grade, I wanted to explore and believed going to school was not the way that I wanted to spend my time. I dropped out and did not think twice about the words of wisdom that were planted deep into my brain not so long ago. I began selling candy out of a truck in places like Alexandria and Silver Spring. I charged seven dollars for a box of dollar store candy and asked for donations for a “made up cause” that I carried around on a flyer to get people to buy my candy. I made a $1.50 after my managers took their cut. The days would be long and hot and my managers were never at the pick-up location on time. It was the worst sometimes, but still I made money.

My family had given up on the idea of me doing anything great and started asking me to contribute to the house -- clean the house, run to the store, cook dinner, etc. I had to do something to earn my resting place. I became tired and annoyed with being confined to the same walls every day of my life. I was ready to break out. I set my sights on obtaining a G.E.D. and began studying for the test. After going to a few G.E.D. study groups, I noticed that I was more advanced than most people there. I decided re-enrolling in school to obtain a High School diploma was a better option.

After taking a placement test to enter ninth grade, I found a school that I fell in love with -- small classes and just the friendliest people I had ever met in DC. I got in! Maya Angelou Public Charter School changed my life. I felt like that child from some time ago returned eager to explore the outside world once again. After my test results came back, I learned that my reading ability was at an 11th grade level. Since I was entering school as a drop out, I had to double up on my English and my Math classes and finished my first year back in school with over a 3.6 GPA. The following year I was connected with one of the biggest blessings in my life, The College Success Foundation – DC. I spent an entire month away from the environment I knew – living in a dorm room at a local university with someone I never met before and trusting that everything would be alright. After meeting some new friends that I still have today, I made the decision to go to college. My decision was influenced by the College Success Foundation telling me that I was entitled to $50,000 in scholarship money. I applied to over 30 schools and got accepted to 19 colleges and universities across the United States. I decided to attend The William Paterson University of New Jersey and major in Public Relations. I will receive my Bachelor’s Degree this year. I also made the decision to give back to young men and women through volunteering with The College Success Foundation - DC.

Someone once told me in life that everything that happens to you in your success story happens to you because of the decisions you make. I made the decision to not be a statistic. The decision to succeed or not is not a hard one these days. I just think about the decisions that I made to become the determined, hardworking, and dedicated young man that I am today. My network of mentors and supporters always tell me that I am a success story, I always reply, “Don’t forget to say ‘in the making.’" – I have not decided that this is the end of my success story yet.

DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region would like to thank Cornell Lyons for sharing his story so we may best understand the experience of disconnected youth in Washington, DC. To learn more about disconnected youth in the District view the report Connecting Youth to Opportunity: Better Understanding the Needs of Disconnected Young People in Washington, DC.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Where Does the Money Go?

With the intent to outline the funding streams that sustain reconnection opportunities for DC youth, the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA), in partnership with The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, releases “Connecting Youth to Opportunity: A Resource Map for the District’s Disconnected Youth Dollars.” The network of services navigated by disconnected youth is complex, with the District offering several programs and services across eight city agencies. The resource map is a tool for those seeking to utilize the District’s resources most effectively and to understand the complexities behind funding this unique, at-risk population. It is important to note that due to the budget process and ability to track actual vs. budgeted expenses, the roadmap is based on 2012 and 2013 budgets. However, we will be updating the roadmap annually to better provide tracking and trends on spending and access. So with that caveat,  what does this initial roadmap tell us about DC’s inventory of reconnection services? DCAYA has three key take-aways:

First, while cross agency coordination has improved to a degree, there still remains room for improvement. In order to capture the dynamic needs of youth and maximize investments in our public systems, agencies must collaborate to share services, expertise, and resources. One example, which is seen in the funding map, is the Pathways for Young Adults program. The Department of Employment Services (DOES) is partnering with the Community College of the District of Columbia (UDCC) to address the needs of disconnected youth by supplementing traditional occupational training with the chance to learn key life skills. Intentional partnerships between our workforce system and sister agencies is necessary if we are going to build a comprehensive and efficient workforce development system that youth can readily access and transition through as their needs evolve.

Second, the resource map also reveals a severe scarcity of year-round programming specific to disconnected young people. While as of 2012, just under $12,000,000 is spent on the six-week-long Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), less than $5,000,000 was slated for year-round workforce development training for out-of-school youth. Even though adult training programs are available for youth over 18, the rate at which youth access these programs is low, given their overrepresentation in our unemployment rate. Higher-need, less-skilled youth require modified programming that meets them where they’re at. We need to invest in year round training and job placement services that are designed to meet the unique needs of the disconnected youth population.

Third, and perhaps one of the most poignant pieces of the map, is the lack of local funding directed to youth who face the greatest risks of disconnection at key points of transition, like aging out of foster care, exiting the juvenile justice system, becoming young parents, or acclimating as first generation immigrations. We know these youth are especially vulnerable to disconnection and the resources and support they require are often a bit different and deeper than their peers. Yet, the District invests less than $1,500,000 in local dollars to these particularly high risk populations, while federal funds only account for $5,191,409 more.

In reviewing the resource roadmap and comparing various agency programs side-by-side, it is easy to see the startling reality of where the gaps and opportunities lie for disconnected youth. By understanding the various funding streams within our system of reconnection foundations, community advocates and policymakers can target future investments and strengthen our ability to intervene early and effectively. Join us in working with the Council to ensure that the 2015 budget includes strategic investments that connect youth to opportunities.

View "Connecting Youth to Opportunity: A Resource Map of the District's Disconnected Youth Dollars."  

Amy Dudas is the disconnected youth and workforce development policy analyst at DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. This FY'15 budget season, Amy will be citing trends in disconnected youth funding to advocate for the support of a re-engagement center in conjunction with funding to grow capacity in alternative education programs.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Budget Breakdown: What Mayor Gray's Proposed Budget Means for Children and Youth

As you likely heard, Mayor Gray released the proposed DC Budget for 2015 last Thursday. The multi-billion dollar budget proposal is now before Council where, through a series of upcoming public hearings and advocacy meetings, it will be debated and tweaked by Council Committees before it goes to a final vote.

To inform our budget asks for 2015, DCAYA spent the last few days reading through each agency budget to identify major changes. We found a few pockets of great investments, and a few areas that will need loud community voices in the coming weeks. Here's what we've found so far:

Education: Please note the DCPS budget format was dramatically overhauled this year and it will take us a bit more time to work though. In the meantime, here are a few broad takeaways.

DC Public Schools and Public Charter Schools  
  • $112,000,000 in new funding for DC Public Schools (DCPS) and the District’s public charter schools (PCS), including $60,000,000 million in funding targeted to at risk students.
  • A $409,000,000 investment for ongoing citywide school modernization.
  • $880,000 to add three additional career academies in IT, engineering, and hospitality.
  • A major increase in the number of middle school counselors, budget mark pending.
Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE):
  • Due to a decrease in a number of federal grants, OSSE’s overall budget will be reduced by $25,697,297. This will impact a number of OSSE’s offices and programs. DCAYA is still waiting for more information on these cuts.  
  • Funding to services designed to promote success in post secondary education including DC TAG, AP Test Fee Funding the College Access Challenge Grant went up by $9,788,000.
DCAYA Ask: Given the overall complexity of the Education Budget, we are continuing to work through our final asks for this year. We’ll be sure to post additional information here and on our website as soon as possible. In the meantime, DC Appleseed just released a great report and recommendations on the need for robust investments in Adult Basic Education, and as always, our friends at DCFPI have a number of great blogs up that look at the Mayor’s entire budget.

Youth Homelessness and Safety Net Services:
  • Although we’re still waiting to hear final numbers on supports for Homeless and unaccompanied youth and young parents; last year’s budget for this population was $6,022,691. Given the investments made by the LGBTQ Housing Program we would anticipate this number to rise by close to $400,000 this year. We’ll update you as we learn more.
  • The overall budget for homeless families shows a decrease. While the budget does include a $1,000,000 increase to both emergency rental assistance and rapid re-housing, this investment will not cover the loss of nearly $600,000 in federal funding traditionally used to provide critical safety net services for homeless families. 
  • Funding to mental health services for children and youth through the Department of Behavioral Health also saw a massive increase of $23,689,000.
  • The DC Kids Ride Free Program was increased by $2,000,000.
DCAYA Ask: With 48% of homeless families headed by a parent aged 24 years and younger, our city faced a mounting crisis this winter. While we applaud the commitment of this Mayor to invest in truly affordable housing and the 500 Families in 100 days initiative, we remain committed to ensuring young heads of household and unaccompanied youth receive the level of support they need to succeed long term. We must remember that many of these young parents and individuals are simply not prepared financially or emotionally to live alone. We will continue to advocate for the adoption of our $10,000,000 investment in prevention, reunification and long-term supports for this vulnerable population.

Expanded Learning and Youth Development:
  • Despite early indications that the Trust’s budget could see an increase in the Mayor’s proposed budget, funding remained flat at $3,000,000.
DCAYA Ask: We stand by our initial recommendation that the Children Youth Investment Trust Corporation should be funded at $8,000,000. This is the funding level necessary to maintain its current grant making, capacity building and agency coordination efforts.

Youth Workforce:
  • Funding to the DOES Summer Youth Employment Program increased by $634,000.
  • Unfortunately, year round programming provided by DOES was cut by $1,943,000 due to a loss in federal funding that was not replaced with local dollars.
  • The end of a contract between OSSE and DOES has removed $4,153,000 in Post-Secondary Education and Workforce Readiness funding from the OSSE budget. The impact of this cut is somewhat unknown at this time, with more information to follow.
  • On a brighter note though, although this isn’t possible to find in the budget document, the Mayor’s Office Reported making an additional $2,500,000 investment in workforce programming at the Community College of the District of Columbia.
DCAYA Ask: While the investment in the community college is fantastic, the failure to invest local funds into the year round youth workforce programming is troubling. DCAYA will push for stable funding for this program and also recommends that the increase in SYEP be transferred to the year round program.

Disconnected Youth:
DCAYA Ask: This budget is insufficient to support a fully functioning REC. The DCAYA’s analysis recommended $689,000 in public funding (this relies on at minimum $115,000of in-kind donations from various government agencies and foundations). We are continuing to push for the full investment recognizing that as proposed, the Mayor’s budget would hire three staff and support almost no additional resources for a REC.  In addition, we continue to push for $1,500,000 to support additional capacity in our alternative education programs. Without more seats, there will be very few educational programs for youth to reconnect to. Because funding in DCPS' budget is still unclear, progress in this area is uncertain. We'll continue to update you.

DC Alliance of Youth Advocates envisions a community where no youth is considered at-risk and where all are respected as valued members of society. Facilitating robust community input on the DC Budget to ensure smart, stable funding that positively impacts DC youth is a major part of our work. Please check our website calendar for opportunities to have your voice heard in the upcoming DC Council Budget Hearings 

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Friday, April 04, 2014

Ride Along with Ay

Excerpt from the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates report "Connecting Youth to Opportunity: Better Understanding the Needs of Disconnected Young People in Washington, DC":

The DCAYA survey asked questions speci´Čücally about transportation, as it has been a consistent concern among providers that work with at-risk youth. Students use a variety of transportation options in getting to school/programs (bus, metro, car, foot), and as a result there was variability to the costs associated with transportation. Nonetheless, nearly one-third (29%) of students reported spending more than $30 a week or $120 a month getting to and from school. Equally concerning, 47% of survey respondents who spent more than $30 a week came from Wards 5, 7, or 8. While young people who are connected to a traditional K–12 school are eligible for some transportation subsidies from the DC Government, these subsidies do not extend to young people older than age 22 or those who take classes outside of the traditional school calendar. Given the low earning power for many students, and the level of participation in non-traditional programs, the reality is that transportation costs may be a prohibitive factor in a student’s ability to re-connect.


My name is Ay, pronounced literally by the letters, so A-y. I go to School Without Walls, and yes we have walls. I plan on doing a lot of things in the future but my central focus is to be a lawyer. 

Leaving so early is kind of scary. Especially when there’s no one around. But you get use to it and speed walking is a nice exercise! I never take the bus to the metro because I find it to be extremely unreliable.

Sometimes when you have to walk to the metro things don’t always go your way. Especially in the winter. The one path that takes me to the metro fastest likes to freeze up and turn to ice. Then I have to circle all the way around.

If you hear there’s a problem on the red line (which is about every other week) you gotta leave even earlier to make it to school. If not, you get stuck waiting for the train. Sometimes you have to get off because of “mechanical problems” and board another train that is already crowded. So you squish together like sardines.

A lot of times the bus decides to come 50 minutes after it’s suppose to be here. How am I supposed to be on time if my transportation method isn't? Sometimes I can’t take the train and have to rely on a bus. But it’s never the better alternative.

Guest blogger Ay participates in the youth development program Brainfood, which uses food as a tool to build life skills and promote healthy living. Her favorite Brainfood dish is Jamaican beef patties. She says they are "Super delicious!". 

By taking snapchats and telling snippets, readers may get a sense of a youth's daily commute around DC. If you know of a youth who would like to be a guest blogger for DCAYA, please contact the multimedia and communications manager Angela Massino at 

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