Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Help Us Leap into 2016!

As 2015 is about to wrap-up, we can’t help but reflect and be grateful for all that we’ve accomplished this year, because of people like you. 

 You and your fellow community supporters are parents and teachers, DCAYA donors and volunteers, DC natives and even out-of-town advocates for DC youth. You help to raise awareness of our advocacy efforts and initiatives one person at a time, when you share our work with your own friends and families. And we are grateful for all you do to stay engaged and spread the word, all year round. 

 With your engagement and support, this year has been amazing: 
  • We've completed a homeless youth census, over 15 new beds for homeless youth are online, and both drop in center and youth focused outreach services have expanded;
  • A full, data driven, plan to address youth homelessness (due in March!), expanded services to homeless minors and the closure of DC general are on the horizon;
  • We protected a critical funding stream, and successfully advocated for a restoration of cut funds to youth development programs outside of the school day;
  • We are one final vote away from a State Diploma for GED recipients, and we’re making significant strides in expanding transportation support to the 800 (or so) 22-24 year old students seeking to re-connect to education. 
And as 2015 is almost over, our work is far from it. In fact, we hit the ground running in 2016, with an Expanded Learning Advocacy Planning meeting in just two weeks! So please join the rest of the Catalogue for Philanthropy family, and consider “Giving Like a Local” for DC Youth. It’s simple to make a donation, just go to our Catalogue for Philanthropy donation page and give what you can.

Thank you, in advance! And see you in 2016,

Your friends at DCAYA

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Highlights from DCAYA's Amazing Members!

It's a quiet week here in the office, so we thought we'd take this week's blog post to share some Twitter highlights of Holiday greetings and happenings from DCAYA members over the past week or so. This selection is in no particular order. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

DCAYA's Year in Review

The holiday season and start to a new year is a natural point of reflection. A time of pause when we recall the poignant moments of the past twelve months, ponder lessons learned, celebrate our successes and think about the promise of the year to come. 

It has been a busy and productive year for the entire DCAYA family. Collectively we delivered more than 200 pieces of testimony at over 2 dozen hearings, devoted hundreds of hours to educating key policy makers on the barriers and opportunities facing DC children, youth and families (rough estimates suggest more than 2,000 hours total); and delivered well over 5,000 advocacy campaign letters, petition signatures, or calls to action to key decision makers on issues ranging from afterschool access  to the development of a state diploma.

  • We've completed a homeless youth census, over 15 new beds for homeless youth are online, and both drop in center and youth focused outreach services have expanded; 
  • A full, data driven, plan to address youth homelessness (due in March!), expanded services to homeless minors and the closure of DC general are on the horizon;
  • We protected a critical funding stream, and successfully advocated for a restoration of cut funds to youth development programs outside of the school day;
  • We are one final vote away from a State Diploma for GED recipients, and we’re making significant strides in expanding transportation support to the 800 (or so) 22-24 year old students seeking to re-connect to education.
Yet the work, and that impact doesn’t end with our advocacy efforts. We’ve had opportunities to convene and learn from one another. Whether it’s at the Youth Workforce Leadership Academy, Brown Bag Lunches, Quarterly Breakfasts with DC Government Agencies, networking or awareness raising events; we’ve watched our vibrant community grow and evolve.  

Most importantly, through our collective advocacy and your exceptional services and support we’ve ensured tens of thousands of our children and youth have access to the services and youth development opportunities they need to thrive. As we close 2015 we have much to celebrate and much to be thankful for.

This isn’t to say our work is done. 2016 will bring new challenges and opportunities; and DCAYA will continue to nurture the seeds of change our community has planted:
  • We will set bold and audacious goals and we will work diligently to meet them;
  • We will strive, each and every day,  to support future leaders in finding their voice;
  • We will elevate the positive impact our member organizations have on the landscape of our city and we will continue to build your capacity to demonstrate that impact and;
  • We will ensure that policy makers are equipped with a clear understanding of the potential inherent to every young person and the policy solutions needed to realize that potential. 
So please know that as we start 2016,  we will be reaching out to mobilize and activate each of you, the youth and families you serve, and our collective supporters, friends and allies to continue this important work.

Whether it’s demonstrating the need for additional after school options, strengthening our education and workforce development systems or ensuring our homeless services system is youth friendly; we have the potential to create lasting and meaningful systems change that will benefit children and youth for years to come. We couldn’t do it without you, and we can’t wait to kick off our 2016 advocacy efforts. 

Until then, happy holidays and thank you again for being a part of DCAYA. 

- Maggie Riden

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Leaving "No Child Left Behind" Behind

Last week, the House passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (S.1177) by a vote of 369 to 64. This week, the Senate followed suit and passed the bill by a 85-12 vote. Once it is signed into law by the President, this bill will replace the 14 year-old No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 through FY 2020.

The compromise legislation, drawn up in conference from both the House and Senate versions, shows promise of final enactment thanks to bipartisan provisions addressing the key goals of both Republicans and Democrats. The bill appeals to Republicans for its limitations on the role of the federal government and to Democrats for its efforts to protect low-income and minority students. At a time when all things political feel divisive, efforts to collaborate and compromise are refreshing.

So what does this mean for the state of education nationally; and how will this affect the education landscape of the District? 

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Youth Voice! Youth Vote?

This week’s post focuses on new legislation that has been introduced in DC Council to reduce the eligible voting age in the District to 16 years of age. We hope that this blog will start a discussion among DCAYA members and youth in the community about what it would take for the District to successfully engage our most vulnerable young people as voters in our local elections in 2016  if this legislation is signed into law. What do you think? Share your thoughts with @DCAYA on Twitter with the hashtag #DCYouthVote to join the local conversation, or use #16toVote to join the national one.

Access to voting rights has long been a unifying issue for the residents of DC, who are required to pay federal income tax but cannot elect a voting member to the United States Congress. “Taxation Without Representation,” according to our standard license plate slogan since 2000.

While we don’t expect a solution to our long standing federal predicament anytime soon, last month, DC Councilmembers Charles Allen, David Grosso and Brianne Nadeau, introduced a bill that would at least broaden local voting rights to more of our residents in municipal elections. The Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2015 would lower the eligible voting age in the District to 16, effectively widening the pool of eligible voters by some 10,500 DC residents under 18.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Tuesday is next week, after Black Friday and Cyber Monday

The DC Alliance of Youth Advocates is once again participating in #GivingTuesday (December 1st!). With Black Friday and Cyber Monday focused on "getting", Giving Tuesday is a global day dedicated to giving. And for many DC youth, what adults and organizations in their community give is the only way they get access to high-quality and affordable developmental opportunities.

Last year, more than 27,000 organizations in 68 countries came together to celebrate #GivingTuesday.  Since its founding in 2012, #GivingTuesday has inspired giving around the world, resulting in greater donations, volunteer hours, and activities that bring about real change in communities.

So we are asking you to save the date and join this global movement by continuing to support our local work. Consider giving $15 in '15.

Our goal for #GivingTuesday is  $1,500. With your help and only 99 other DCAYA friends and supporters, we will easily hit this target, if not surpass it! We hope you'll join us in kicking off our end-of year campaign to ensure that youth have a unified and powerful voice in the decisions that impact their lives.

Here is the link to our Giving Tuesday campaign page:

Please bookmark the link, take a second to visit and give on Tuesday, December 1 and if you can, share why you support DCAYA on our Facebook page or by mentioning us on Twitter.

And if you'd like to print out a sign like the one JR is holding above to share your own reason for giving, you can print it from here. Whatever you do, however you share your support, don't forget to use the hashtags #GivingTuesday or #GiveLikeALocal!

Again, a successful campaign on December 1st will go far in ensuring our community starts the new year with our best foot forward: While this might be the end of 2015, what you give today will be the key to the beginning of new opportunities for many youth in the District.

So save the date, and get ready to give to DC youth, by giving here on Giving Tuesday.

P.S. In case you want to give while you get, before Giving Tuesday, you can do so at Amazon Smile. Just click on this link first:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Critical Time for Action: Support #DiplomaBound Youth!

A Call to Action for students pursuing a GED or NEDP, alternative and adult education providers! 

As we’ve been sharing since last winter, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) has been considering a series of proposals that would allow the Office of the State Superintendent ofEducation (OSSE) to award diplomas to nontraditional students, such as adult students and students attending alternative schools, who have passed the General Educational Development (GED) Test or the National External DiplomaProgram (NEDP). After a yearlong process, the SBOE will vote on these proposed regulations to create a State Diploma at their monthly meeting this evening.

Ahead of tonight’s vote, we need your support to ensure the SBOE votes in favor of the State Diploma as a critical element of the District’s second-chance system for reengaging youth and adult learners. Here’s our streamlined advocacy plan:

Why does the District need a State Diploma to support alternative students?

Disconnected youth face distinct barriers when trying to return to school to receive a traditional diploma.

  • The bulk of DC’s “second chance” programs (those that offer wraparound services in addition to educational instruction) offer GED preparation, not credit towards a diploma.
  • Traditional high schools offer less flexibility in scheduling, a particular barrier for young parents or young people who are under 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 or completing the NEDP are critical alternative options for re-engaging students. 

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 issuing a State Diploma upon completion of the GED or NEDP, students have an alternative pathway to demonstrating mastery of high school concepts and competencies. The State Diploma will open doors for the over 8,000 youth (ages 16 – 24) in DC who are not currently enrolled in school or other educational programs.

  • The State Diploma will enhance the regional competitiveness of DC’s youth and adult learners. Maryland already offers a State Diploma for GED attainment, and Virginia’s robust alternative education system functions as a pipeline to local employers. The State Diploma will help ensure that District residents applying for the same position as a resident of MD or VA has a comparable credential that demonstrates mastery of the same core competencies. In fact, 13 other states offer a State Diploma for GED/NEDP completion.
  • The State Diploma will aid in de-stigmatizing alternative pathways to high school competency. We know that a traditional high school diploma opens far more postsecondary education and employment opportunities than a GED credential alone, despite the increased rigor of the GED since 2013. Youth who obtain a traditional diploma often find work more easily and have more earning power than those who master similar concepts through the GED track. According to the 2009 Census, high school diploma holders earned approximately $4,700 in mean monthly earnings compared with GED certificate holders, who earned $3,100.

How can we ensure these regulations become District policy?

In order to ensure agile advocacy on the State Diploma, we’ve carved out our strategy in the case tonight’s meeting goes in one of the following three ways. In any case it’s important that will fill social media and the SBOE members’ inboxes with our support ahead of tonight’s vote at 5:30. To do so, please reference our updated Advocacy Guide (SECTION IV) for a social media guide with sample tweets and a sample email to reach out individually to the SBOE members. Make sure your SBOE representatives know you support the State Diploma with thunderous tweets and emails!

Remember to use the hashtag #DiplomaBound so the conversation is loud and clear on Twitter.

Here are our strategy plans based on the three possible ways tonight’s vote could go:

     1.     SBOE follows through tonight on a first and single vote on the creation of a State Diploma:
·       Advocates convene at the meeting to show support for the State Diploma.
o   Advocates can reference the Advocacy Guide to bolster their social media and email support.

      2.     If the SBOE votes in favor of the State Diploma tonight, but also requires a second vote once the 30 day public comment period passes on the proposed State Diploma regulations from OSSE:
·       Advocates maintain pressure on the SBOE to vote in favor of the State Diploma via social media and direct engagement.
·       Advocates engage with Council, and urge them to move forward on a legislative approach to creating the State Diploma. A bill was introduced and moved to the Committee on Education earlier this year to create the State Diploma.

      3.     If the SBOE votes no tonight and does not schedule a second vote on the State Diploma for December:
·       Advocates sign onto a letter expressing our appreciation of the SBOE’s work on this issue, but state that the urgency of the issue requires that we turn to Council for support in moving the State Diploma forward.
·       Advocates engage with Council, and urge them to move forward on a legislative approach to creating the State Diploma. A bill was introduced and moved to the Committee on Education earlier this year to create the State Diploma.

Together, we can make sure DC creates educational pathways so all hard working residents can be #DiplomaBound as a first step towards their lifelong success. 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 the State Diploma. 

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, November 11, 2015

A Bumpy Road to Self-Sustaining Employment: Paving the Way for Homeless Youth

As a continuation of our participation in Youth Homelessness Awareness Month, we'd like to take this week to highlight an important intersection of two of DCAYA's Issue Areas: Youth Homelessness and Youth Workforce Development. For many youth in the District and across the country, experiencing homelessness for short or extended periods of time can add significant barriers to their ability to connect to and thrive within workforce development programming. This week we're joined by guest blogger Amy Louttit from the National Network for Youth to elevate the challenges homeless youth experience in accessing workforce development opportunities and to highlight some areas of potential progress for this vulnerable population.

Barriers to Employment for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

The barriers that youth who are experiencing homelessness face when trying to access jobs and career pathways are diverse and profound. At the front end of the process to engage in the employment and workforce training necessary to be self-sufficient and seek affordable housing options, many of these youth lack the basic required documentation. A result of the transiency of their lives in general, as well as the fact that many of the minors do not have a parent or guardian to sign necessary documents, many homeless youth lack access to the social security cards, birth certificates and/or state issued identification cards needed to enroll in programs or complete required tax forms. While many of these documentation hurdles cannot be avoided (social security and identification verification are ubiquitously required to work), some programs have recently made it more difficult for youth experiencing homelessness to participate. For example, JobCorps recently reversed a long-standing policy that had allowed unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness to participate without parental signatures. When we consider that Runaway and Homeless Youth programs are the best places to link disconnected youth to employment, it becomes imperative that we focus on minimizing documentation hurdles for youth who lack the stable relationships necessary to safely obtain such signatures and paperwork.

Other youth experiencing homelessness are able to access jobs, but lack the supportive services required to help them continue to develop the life skills needed to maintain employment. The cost of transportation, lack of mentoring support, and healthcare needs are frequently cited as barriers. Without including supports to counter these pervasive barriers to employment for youth experiencing homelessness, these young people are much less likely to sustain their engagement in workforce training or on-the-job experience. The detrimental effects are twofold. Youth are unable to stick with the programs or jobs that are providing them with much-needed experience, training, and income. And employers on the other end of the equation experience a confirmation of perceptions that youth employees lack the ability to demonstrate reliability, persistence, and work appropriate self-advocacy skills.

Areas of Workforce Access Opportunities for Homeless Youth

In July of 2014, President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law as part of a Federal effort to fill in the gaps youth face when navigating the workforce while gaining stability. This Act which governs programs such as JobCorps and other Youth Formula Funded programs attempts to encourage local labor to engage with "disconnected youth"-- those who are not enrolled in school and are disconnected from supportive services. In many instances, the disconnected youth population is currently experiencing homelessness or has in the past. 

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently collected public comments on regulations authorized by WIOA. While the Federal requirements were intentionally structured to minimize barriers to workforce and labor for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness, some local communities are prescribing higher barrier documentation and eligibility requirements. Youth experiencing homelessness up to 24 years of age are particularly in need of programs that aid them in identifying and training for a career pathway. 

The programs funded by the DOL under WIOA are built to achieve just this goal for disconnected youth. However, at the local level some communities have instituted such requirements as passing "entry exams" to these programs. Entry exams are usually used to assess a young person's literacy and numeracy skill levels, but they can often be used as cutoff points for program eligibility. For example, many programs will not accept students who cannot perform at 8th grade literacy and numeracy levels for fear that youth will not be able to efficiently perform necessary workplace duties. These entrance exam barriers are particularly troubling for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness because they are likely to change schools frequently. Such school mobility interrupts their education and often results in large gaps in their literacy and numeracy skills and often contributes to a young person's ability to persist through traditional pathways to high school completion. 

Understanding that delayed academic achievement is one of the underlying causes of youth disconnection, we must do better to incorporate basic skills education with workforce development training if we expect our disconnected youth to sustain engagement in school and work. Conversely, where these youth are unable to access WIOA programs, such as JobCorps, it is far more probable that they will be trapped in the cycle of poverty and homelessness due to lack of education and skills.

The Federal Government is making strides toward filling in gaps and reforming laws. Meanwhile, youth-serving organizations and their partners are capitalizing on opportunities to advocate for better policies and watching for the WIOA final rules to be published. In the interim, States are beginning to develop plans with their funding under WIOA and local partners should look for opportunities to educate local policymakers about the unique issues unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness face. Together we can help to fill in these gaps and end the challenge of youth homelessness.

Amy Louttit is the Public Policy Associate at the National Network for Youth. We thank her for highlighting critical disconnections between the youth workforce development and youth homelessness fields. 

For more information on DCAYA's efforts to address the needs of homeless youth in DC, reach out to Senior Policy Analyst Joseph Gavrilovich ( 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

DC Alliance of Youth Advocates Named ‘One of the Best Nonprofits’ by the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington

‘Give Like a Local’ Means Local Reviewers Have Vetted Local Charity

The Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington, after a careful vetting process, has selected DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA) as a new nonprofit for inclusion in this year’s Catalogue. It means when people want to “give like a local,” they will know DCAYA has met the Catalogue’s high standards because it has undergone a program review, financial assessment and site visit.

DCAYA’s mission is to ensure that all children and youth in the District of Columbia have access to high-quality and affordable developmental opportunities. As a coalition of youth-engaged organizations, youth and concerned residents in the District, DCAYA accomplishes this mission by crafting policy recommendations, providing structured advocacy opportunities for our members and allies, networking and empowering youth.

“Give Like a Local” is the Catalogue’s new campaign to raise awareness of nonprofits such as DCAYA, as well as the Catalogue and the easy way donors can support local charities that mean the most to them. The Catalogue also offers gift cards so families and friends can continue the giving tradition with the charities of their choice.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Where Will They Be Next November?

A look back at Youth Homelessness Awareness Month and the Year Ahead for District Youth

In the summer of 2007, the United States Congress officially declared November as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. It’s noteworthy that a 16-year-old youth that year who was experiencing homelessness would now be a 24-year-old, either fully independent, on the precipice of transitioning to self sufficiency, or sadly having fallen through the cracks will be moving into an adult serving system. 9 years after the institution of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, that is unconscionable.  Here at DCAYA, this reinforces the urgency to act and ensure we are cutting off the pipeline into housing instability and homelessness. That said, it also allows us to acknowledge the progress our community has made.

What’s Been Done About Youth Homelessness in DC?

In kicking off this awareness month three years ago on this blog, we noted that the need for more action around youth homelessness in the DC was very real. The “invisibility” of homeless youth – mostly young people “couch surfing” from place to place – meant that there was little public awareness or political will to be found for doing right by them. In the meantime, the District’s overall capacity for serving homeless youth was at only 216 beds, with providers reporting high turn-away rates and double-digit waitlists.

Recognizing this, the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates worked diligently with providers and partner advocates to develop and release A Bold Strategy to End Youth Homelessness in the District of Columbia in October 2013. This strategy called the Mayor,  DC Council and city officials to invest in a long-term, data driven, continuum of services that spanned prevention through intervention and into stable independence. Together, the coalition partners calculated that a $10 million commitment was needed to fund prevention, intervention and evaluation for a full year.

As Support Grows, Services Follow in DC…

Council heard the request, and passed the Ending Youth Homelessness Amendment Act in May 2014, but at a commitment of $1.3 million. The Act mandated and funded a new youth drop-in center, a coordinated intake system among providers (to ensure that there is no “wrong door” for youth seeking support), fifteen new beds for youth in crisis, a street outreach program, and an annual homeless youth census. Since the initial Act was passed, contracts for the mandated services have been awarded to five youth-serving, community-based organizations in the District.

At the same time, the needs of particular populations of homeless youth are being better addressed in DC. In February 2014 the DC Council passed the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Amendment Act by an almost unanimous vote, mandating that the number of beds for homeless LGBTQ youth be more than doubled from eight to 18, and that the count of homeless youth in the District includes an accurate census of LGBTQ youth. It also funded cultural competency training for all shelter providers to ensure that no matter where a youth makes contact with the system, the staff they encounter are sensitive to their unique needs.

…But Where Will They Be Next November?

While this initial investment to the Ending Youth Homelessness Amendment Act was critical, we're still working diligently to understand what else is needed from a data informed perspective.

To this end, the first publicly funded, youth census funded under the Act was completed in August 2015, with data expected to be released this month. Advocates in the meantime are continuing to collect data on homeless youth with the newly established Coordinated Entry System. Through the collected data, advocates, community-based providers, and DC agencies will have a greater understanding on the investments needed to stabilize homeless youth and guide them onto a path of self sufficiency.

While the successes of recent years have led to a more youth-friendly system – one that has become a little better at meeting the demand and connecting youth to appropriate services – it is almost certain the data will tell us that we’ll need to ramp up funding in the years ahead if we are to truly stick to a bold strategy that emphasizes prevention and meaningful interventions to end youth homelessness in the District.

Joey Gavrilovich is a Senior Policy Analyst at the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. For more information, visit our website and don't hesitate to reach out with any questions.  

Monday, November 02, 2015

Education Public Hearing to Discuss the Assessment on Children of Incarcerated Parents Act of 2015

Last Tuesday, October 27, the Council of the District of Columbia’s Committee on Education held a public hearing on:
  • B21-0361, "Youth Suicide Prevention and School Climate Survey Act of 2015"
  • B21-0319, "Assessment on Children of Incarcerated Parents Act of 2015
Most of the witness present were there to discuss B21-0361, so they recessed the hearing until it continues on November 12 at 2pm in Rm 123, to allow for more time to get public witnesses for a more robust conversation on the issues of the Assessment on Children of Incarcerated Parents Act of 2015.

This is where you come in! They need witnesses, either organizations, parents/guardians, or children to testify about the unique academic needs facing children of incarcerated parents and why an assessment is necessary.

The stated purposed of B21-319 is to require the Mayor to comprehensively assess the impact on children who have at least one parent that is incarcerated. The bill specifies that the assessment must:
(1) evaluate the impact of parental incarceration on the child’s academics; and
(2) recommend policies to meet the needs of children who are struggling academically while a parent in incarcerated.

Councilmember Grosso said in his opening statement, on October 27:
Often in D.C. we talk about the needs of returning citizens, but we have not fully explored the impact of incarceration on our children, nor taken specific steps to meet the needs of those children. B21-319 attempts to change that. Taken together, these measures will help save students’ lives and put them in the best position to learn, succeed, and overcome whatever adversity is thrown their way.
We appreciate the attention children of incarcerated parents are receiving, and the adverse effects those circumstances can have on their education. We look forward to seeing what policy recommendations result from the assessment, in just a little over a year. And we wanted to share information on this public hearing on November 12, for anyone who would be interested in attending, and maybe even testifying.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Afterschool Succeeds with In-School Support: Reading Partners in DC

As part of Afterschool Awareness month, DCAYA has featured the work of our community-based partners throughout the month of October. To wrap up our series, we look at the work of Reading Partners with DC’s elementary schools, a successful partnership due to the combined effort of the community-based organization working with teachers, parents, administrators and students.

The first grade student had just traced the letter ‘C’ on the whiteboard. Together, we were coming up with words that start with C: cookies, can, cat.  We brainstormed a few more, and then he drew a picture of a cat on the back of his letter card.  

“C!  Cat!  C-c-c.  COOL!” he exclaimed, giggling.  

By the time his mom appeared at the door to pick him up from our weekly tutoring session, he had chosen a new book to keep at home, and she beamed at the sight of him eagerly flipping through the pages. As she gathered her son’s jacket, bag and lunchbox, our tutor shared how great a job her son had done reading and identifying rhyming words.

Just a few months ago, afternoon tutoring sessions like this one were just a vision for Bancroft Elementary, a bilingual school in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of DC. Under the requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education has designated Bancroft as a Focus School, meaning it is a school in need of targeted support to address large achievement gaps between students.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Keeping the Lights On After School in DC

As part of Afterschool Awareness month, DCAYA will be featuring the work of our community-based partners throughout the month of October. This week, in concert with the Afterschool Alliance’s Lights On Afterschool, we take a look at the need and present funding for afterschool programs in DC.

October is Afterschool Awareness Month, and on and around October 22, events will be held nationally for Lights On Afterschool to underscore the need for investment in afterschool programs. In DC, this need is especially heightened. More and more District families are seeking after school enrichment opportunities for their kids while at the same time, fewer public dollars are being invested in proven programs.

“These programs inspire children to learn beyond an instructional classroom setting,” says Jodi Grant, executive director of the national Afterschool Alliance. “By providing one-on-one mentoring and homework help, healthy snacks and team sports, new STEM learning opportunities such as robotics and computer programming, expanded time to learn art and music in a studio setting, and countless other hands-on opportunities, afterschool programs build upon classroom learning to promote positive youth development and motivate each child and youth toward college and job readiness.”

The Afterschool Alliance has promoted a growing body of research that shows afterschool programs and expanded learning programs keep kids safe, help working families, and encourage increased parental involvement in children’s learning. Data gathered by the Alliance have shown that for every child in an afterschool program nationally, there are two more whose parents say they would participate if a program were available. So, how does DC stack up?

DC Afterschool Investment Falls Short of Demand

The Afterschool Alliance’s survey data show that in DC, the unmet demand is greater than in any state: An estimated 72% of children in the District in grades 6 through 8 would participate in an afterschool program if one were available to them (compared to 40% nationally).

Community-based providers of afterschool programming in the District have a proven track record for tangible outcomes. Yet there is presently little political will toward expanding access in order to match the level of demand in the community. In fact, as other states and localities increasingly see funding for afterschool as a major policy goal, funding for expanded learning and enrichment programming (afterschool and during the summer) in the District (and youth development programs in general) has actually followed a downward trend in recent years.

Less funding means fewer spots in afterschool programs for the kids who need them most. Just last month, due to funding constraints, the DC Trust cut $460,000 from their out of school time grants and 24 organizations saw their funding discontinued. As a result of these cuts, as many as 1,200 expanded learning slots were lost.

In the wake of these cuts, a $1.2 million allocation to the DC Trust has been proposed to fund a series of “mini-grants” to five target neighborhoods. While the grants are well-intentioned to target funding toward neighborhoods most at-risk, the structure of the grant distribution has youth afterschool enrichment and mentoring programs competing with violence prevention and family support programs for the same pot of funding, and in a limited geographic area. Further, with each grant capped at $25,000, we remain concerned that the scope of the funding is insufficient to significantly affect outcomes.

In order to keep the lights on after school in DC, the District needs to return to having stable, multi-year funding to quality organizations. Only with the assurance of a stable funding stream will the District’s strong network of community-based providers be able to better collaborate with more schools and expand the reach of afterschool expanded learning and enrichment opportunities to the kids and families who have the greatest need.

DCAYA thanks the Afterschool Alliance for contributing to this post and for their work toward raising awareness on the need for afterschool investment. For more information on DCAYA's Expanded Learning work, please contact Joseph Gavrilovich.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Expanding a Partnership in Service to DC’s Kids

As part of Afterschool Awareness month, DCAYA will be featuring the work of our community-based partners throughout the month of October. Read on for more on the exciting expansion of afterschool arts, sports and civic service programming from DC SCORES!

Fifteen. Every day when I wake up, that number flashes before my eyes. It is imprinted on my brain. It is the number of schools currently on the waitlist for programs from my youth development nonprofit DC SCORES, which recently finalized a partnership with D.C. United with the goal of serving more District youth.

DC SCORES provides free after-school programs and summer camps to low-income 3rd-8th graders across the District. Our whole-child curriculum thoughtfully integrates the art of poetry, the sport of soccer, and the civic experience of service.  

Mind, body, soul.  

In the neighborhoods and schools we work in, DC SCORES typically is the only opportunity kids have to participate in an organized team sports league. We frequently offer young children their only chance to explore the literary arts for fun and to experience performing original work on stage. We often are the first people who not only ask schoolkids living in poverty how they want to change the world, but who also give a team of kids the tools to do it.

Although DC SCORES has expanded rapidly the past five years, the demand for our programs has grown even faster.  

Why? The young children DC SCORES works with face incredible challenges: hour-plus commutes to school; the responsibility of raising multiple siblings; violence on their streets; no stable home or family support structure.

We help at-risk kids stay on track by surrounding them with a supportive team of peers and committed adult mentors, giving that team the opportunity to safely and creatively express themselves through both arts and sports, and helping them experience that they can change the world around them.  

You don’t have to take my word for it; instead take the words of Ingrid, Claudia, or Christian M. — all DC SCORES alumni.

A new depth of commitment

What keeps me up at night is worrying about the many more Ingrids, Claudias, and Christians out there whose schools we’re not in. Who aren’t, as Christian says, getting to be “part of something greater,” something “to look forward to every day no matter what else was going on in my life,” “something that gives me a pathway from step A to step B, a goal to achieve.”  

Being able to serve all of the children who need us was a big motivator behind our recently announced long-term strategic partnership with D.C.’s Major League Soccer team D.C. United. (Read the press release.)  

Although our organizations have worked together in varying capacities for years, this new, long-term partnership cements our relationship and makes it possible for us to change many more kids’ lives together than either organization could on its own.  

The partnership goes far beyond simply giving DC SCORES’ poet-athletes enhanced soccer experiences and access to major league expertise (though it does that, too!). It symbolizes a new depth of commitment by D.C. United to the community. Programs previously run by D.C. United’s United Soccer Club program have been consolidated into DC SCORES, and two members of D.C. United’s leadership team have joined DC SCORES’ Board of Directors.  

While D.C. United is contributing some limited up-front capital to seed this partnership, it is not really a financial transaction. The partnership’s true value to the children of Washington, D.C., is the willingness of D.C. United to leverage its brand name and corporate access to drive new levels of philanthropic investment to DC SCORES. This year, we are serving 2,000 children. Our goal: expand to 3,000 children in three short years, an objective we’ll only be able to achieve with increased support from community members throughout the District and beyond.

While the partnership is a catalyst for helping us wipe out our growing waitlist; everyone else’s continued support – and those interested in joining our team and advocating for DC children – can make it a reality.

Helping D.C.’s kids succeed on the playing field, in school, and in life is what DC SCORES is all about. We are excited by the potential of this partnership and a growing supporters base to help even more kids do just that.

DCAYA is grateful to this week's blog author, Bethany Henderson, Executive Director of DC SCORES. Want DC SCORES in your school or neighborhood? Please complete their new school application.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Arts After School and Why It Matters

As part of Afterschool Awareness month, DCAYA will be featuring the work of our community-based partners throughout the month of October. Next week we'll hear from DC SCORES about their exciting new partnership with DC United! Read on for more on afterschool arts programming from Project Create!

Accessible, high-quality, arts-focused afterschool and summer programs can make all the difference in a youth’s life. Research shows that creating work through artistic expression has universal therapeutic and human developmental benefits

For more than twenty years, Project Create has worked in partnership with social service organizations and afterschool programs in underserved neighborhoods of DC to provide accessible out-of-school-time arts education to promote positive development in children, youth and families experiencing homelessness and poverty. 

In January 2015, Project Create opened an art studio in Anacostia that offers youth development programming through free visual, performing and digital media arts classes to young residents. In addition to the tremendously beneficial therapeutic aspects of Project Create’s programming, the afterschool setting and the studio space itself provides a significant and meaningful community of care for youth. Across cultures throughout human history, artists have gathered in community spaces to form friendships, share their craft, enhance their skills, and find support among each other while creating their work. Project Create’s Anacostia studio is a space where youth come together, and stay, because they are safe, they are protected, and their voices are heard. 

The depth of identity the youth feel towards the Project Create studio space is exemplified by how they themselves have built community there through their own networks. This story starts with Brittney. We got to know Brittney through our work with So Others Might Eat (SOME) back in 2010 when she was eleven years old. Her family had already experienced homelessness for most of Brittney’s young life, and even as her mother struggled daily to provide Brittney with the essentials, Brittney had daily access to multiple enrichment activities. Each day after school, Brittney painted, danced and performed theater in Project Create’s art classes at SOME. As Brittney grew into a teenager, the mentorship she received from her Project Create teachers was essential to her development.

We were thinking of Brittney when we created and opened our Anacostia studio space. In addition to strengthening our relationship with the community of children and youth who live in Anacostia and surrounding neighborhoods, we wanted to provide our long-time students like Brittney with a space to stay connected with Project Create, even as they “age out,” move out of their housing facilities, or move around the city. 

As soon as we opened our studio doors, Brittney was there! And she didn’t come alone – she brought her boyfriend James, and then her friend Calvin. Then Calvin brought Evan. Then Evan brought Cecilia. And so on it went until, before we knew it, the studio was alive with budding young artists. They come for the art, for the fun, and to see their friends. They also come because it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and because they’re hungry and they know there will be pizza. They come even when Project Create isn’t running classes because they know at least one of their staff mentors will be around.

At times, the youth come reluctantly because they (think they) don’t really like art. James was unenthusiastic about Brittney’s invitation to the studio space, but like so many of the youth we serve, James comes and stays on because Project Create becomes a consistent and stable space for him. In the time since he started spending his afternoons at Project Create’s studio, James has been forced out of his home, drifted through emergency shelters, exhausted his options while couch-surfing, and moved into foster care placement. But through it all James continued coming to Project Create every day, and even in the midst of constant life disruptions over a matter of months, James has found his niche as an artist. He has created original music and learned that he’s a pretty good songwriter. He has learned the craft of 3D printing, and he carried the plastic superhero he made with him everywhere he went for months after. And we were all impressed to find how adept he is with a sewing machine. James continues to experience uncertainty in his life, but every day after school, he finds enrichment and new possibilities in the Project Create studio.

Brittney, now 16, has emerged as a young leader in the artistic community she helped create. She signed up for several classes and quickly became a regular presence during open studio, at family art days, on field trips and at special events. This summer, she worked with Project Create through D.C.’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Brittney is now working with Project Create as a student assistant (when she’s not attending classes as a student herself).

Brittney, James, Calvin, Evan, Cecilia and dozens more youth, each have their own story of what has happened in their life so far that led them to Project Create. For these young people seeking enrichment after school, just as it has been for creative minds throughout history, quality art in an accessible setting can be transformative as they write, illustrate, design and perform the next chapters in their own life stories.

*All names have been changed to protect our students’ confidentiality.

DCAYA extends a big thank you to this week's blog author, Christie Walser, Executive Director of Project Create. For more on Project Create's awesome work that blends creative and youth development, check out their website here

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.