Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Mother's Plea for Play

Guest blogger Kanya Shabazz is the program director for Playworks DC, one of DCAYA's newest members. 

As a mother of two African-American boys, I am deeply affected by events that have led to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We have reached a tipping point….finally. For too many years, I have wondered how many lives it will take before we say enough; before we examine the institutions that make our children feel unsafe, not valued, and not heard. This goes beyond our criminal justice system.

I have worked with school districts in California, New York and now Washington, DC. In every city, I have witnessed acts of micro aggression against troubled youth within school systems. In the District, underperforming schools facing increased pressures to improve academic performance are also issuing an increased number of disciplinary referrals. In elementary schools, students are spending longer hours in academic blocks with fewer opportunities for unstructured time. When students have an opportunity for unstructured time, typically recess, students with behavioral challenges create an environment that is unsafe and exclusionary. In our toughest schools, principals may opt to forfeit recess time all together, meanwhile studies show that play is an essential part of a child’s development.

Schools partner with Playworks to transform recess and play into positive experiences that help kids and teachers get the most out of every learning opportunity. A qualified youth development professional facilitates safe, meaningful play where every kid has fun and contributes to creating an inclusive environment.

Take seven year old *Chris* for example.

When Chris came to the West Education Campus as a brand new second grader, he began acclimating himself to his new surrounding by arguing and fighting with his classmates. Chris’ teacher would often take away recess minutes as a consequence for his behavioral challenges in the classroom. Coach Bridge, a Playworks Program Coordinator, who has facilitated structured recess at West Education for two years, took this disciplinary measure as an opportunity. When Chris was restricted from play at recess, Coach Bridge would have Chris think about rules to make games more fun and fair. After recess, Coach Bridge would meet with Chris and discuss his day while also setting goals for better behavior in the classroom and during recess. Last week Chris approached Coach Bridge:
“You know Coach Bridge, I’m not getting into as many fights as usual.”
“Chris, you’re so right? What changed?”
“Recess is way more fun when I don’t fight as much.”
This is the self reflection Playworks Coaches work to cultivate in students every day.
In every Playworks school, there is a percentage of marginalized youth who have a significant history of aggressive behavior. When antisocial, aggressive behavior can become a death sentence for our youth, interventions that focus on developing pro-social skills (independent conflict resolution, positive language, and behavior and inclusion) are more important than ever. Playworks Coaches reach every child, especially those who struggle most with behavioral issues. Our evidence-based curriculum partner’s youth with young adult advocates who believe that play can bring the best out of every child.

Photo courtesy of Playworks DC

Kanya Shabazz's favorite recess games are double dutch and four square. Learn more about Playworks and how you can be involved here:

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Support #DiplomaBound Youth

Big news for alternative education learners and GED recipients! 

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has proposed regulations that would amend current District graduation requirements. The regulations would allow local education agencies (LEAs) to offer competency based credits toward graduation with OSSE approval. OSSE also added new language to create a Superintendent’s Diploma for youth who demonstrate mastery of high school competencies by passing the General Education Development (GED), National External Diploma Program (NEDP), or achieve mastery through homeschooling. Now the State Board of Education must vote to approve these proposed regulations at their monthly meeting on December 17th.

Why is this great news?
Think about some of the barriers disconnected youth face when trying to go back to school to receive a traditional diploma.
  • A young person may be very competent in a subject matter, yet lack traditional, in-seat credits to prove it, preventing them from earning a degree in a timely manner. 
  • Traditional high schools offer less flexibility in scheduling, a particular barrier for young parents or young people who feel a financial pressure to help support their families. 
  • If youth are over 21, they can no longer attend traditional high schools, leaving them with limited educational options. 
Preparing for, and passing the GED is a critical alternative option. 
While the GED became much more rigorous in 2013, as reflected in its alignment to the Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, the test is still seen by some employers as an “easy way out” of mastering high school skills. This perception puts GED recipients at an even greater disadvantage when applying for jobs even though passing the GED and achieving a high school diploma demonstrates comparable mastery of the same core competencies. This perception has led to staggering inequities for GED students in terms of employability and earning power. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009, GED certificate holders had significantly lower earnings ($3,100 per month) than those who earned a traditional high school diploma ($4,700 per month) regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, or age.

So what will the proposed regulations do for DC youth?
By allowing local education agencies to offer competency based credits, young people can prove mastery in a subject, even if they have failed the course in the past. Competency based credits are particularly important for youth nearing their 21st birthday who need to accrue credits quickly before they age out of traditional education options, as they might not have time to accrue credits based on seat-time. Competency based education is based off of a student’s actual knowledge of a subject matter rather than the number of hours they were sitting in a classroom.

By issuing a Superintendent’s Diploma upon completing the GED, students have an alternative pathway to receiving a state-issued diploma which proves their high school competency. This diploma would open doors for the over 7,500 youth (ages 16 – 24) in DC who are not currently enrolled in school or other educational programs.

And DC is not alone in this practice, 31 states provide either a traditional state diploma or an equivalency diploma upon students passing the GED. This includes our neighbor to the north, Maryland, which offers a state-issued diploma for GED attainment. As a result, District youth are currently at a disadvantage in the regional labor market. Employers considering a candidate from Maryland see a state issued diploma on their resume, while a candidate from the District may only claim GED attainment on their resume. Though both candidates have demonstrated the same mastery of the same concepts, studies show that preference is often given to the diploma holder.

How can we ensure these regulations become District policy?
On December 17th, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will vote to approve these proposed regulations, and we need your help! Here are some things you can do to ensure the SBOE supports these critical steps towards rigorous, yet flexible, educational pathways that acknowledge the unique needs of disconnected youth and adult learners: 
Tweet and/or email this blog to current board members to voice your support of the proposed regulations. 
Remember to use the hashtag #DiplomaBound so the conversation is loud and clear on Twitter.

View SBOE emails, twitter handles, and sample tweets.

Together, we can make sure DC creates educational pathways so all hard working residents can be #DiplomaBound and economically stable. Ask the SBOE to vote “YES” on OSSE’s proposed regulations to amend current District graduation requirements.

Follow our disconnected youth & youth workforce development policy analyst Amy Dudas at @amy_dudas and @DCAYA on twitter to stay updated on the progress of these proposals. 

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

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Reflecting on the Past Year

Holiday Letter from the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates executive director, Maggie Riden.

The holiday season and start to a new year is a natural time of reflection, a time of pause where we recall the poignant moments of the past twelve months. Where we mourn our losses, but also celebrate our successes. As a family of passionate youth advocates, we have a little of both.

Our losses this year are still, for many, very fresh. Marion Barry was a passionate advocate. He was a powerful presence and in many ways, the original youth champion. His belief in the power of the people, and his work to give every DC resident a voice is unparalleled. The disappearance of Relisha Rudd continues to be a loss that reverberates throughout our community. It’s an echo of sadness that, for those closest to her, will never cease. The tragedy in Ferguson, the death of Michael Brown and subsequent community conflict has become a stark reminder that as a nation we have much work to do in addressing race, equity and equality. It’s important to acknowledge these moments.

It’s equally important to recognize that tragedy and crisis are fertile ground for profound and positive change.

That potential is what I think about when I think about the DCAYA family.

  • Young people like Charmia, Kyrina, Boogie and Jorge: Their willingness to speak truth to power and their belief in not only themselves, but their peers, reminds me of the power inherent in each young person when they’re given room to grow and thrive. 
  • The staff working with youth at our member organizations: The unsung heroes who are helping youth find their passion and their voice as they navigate the path to adulthood. Their commitment is a reminder of just how critical a positive role model or mentor is in nurturing the life of a young person. 
  • Our fellow advocates: Those ardent individuals who never hesitate to discuss the difficult issues, who are the first to bring a solution to the table. Their work to cultivate creative solutions and refusal to accept mediocrity reminds me each day that big picture change is always possible. 

DCAYA is the tent that brings this diverse array of voices together. We work each and every day to support those future leaders in finding their voice, to highlight the impact our member organizations have on the landscape of our city, and to provide policy makers with proven solutions. Through this collective and coordinated approach, our impact is very real. We are addressing youth and child homelessness with vigor; we are creating quality academic and enrichment opportunities for all young people; and we’ve listened to our youth and are now actively mobilizing agencies, providers and funders to address the barriers young people face when trying to reconnect to school and work.

This isn’t to say our work is done. Know that in the year to come DCAYA will continue to nurture the seeds of change our community has planted. We embrace the challenges 2015 will undoubtedly bring because as a community, as a family of passionate youth advocates, we can face them together head on.

As 2014 comes to a close, look out for an upcoming blog post on DCAYA's 2015 advocacy agenda. Together we can advocate for a truly Youth-Friendly DC.

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