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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