Obama’s “Every Kid in a Park” Initiative: Connecting Kids to Nature and History

Two developments last week provide opportunities for cities to connect young people to the outdoors and to local history.

Every Kid in a Park initiativeThe President’s new Every Kid in a Park initiative will help city leaders develop and expand strategies for getting more young people outdoors and connected to our national parks. (Getty Images)

For some children, spending time outdoors isn’t as easy as it should be. In many communities, safety concerns and a lack of access to parks and green space hinder young people from spending quality time outside. This, coupled with a national screen time average of 7½ hours a day (seven days a week) among eight to eighteen year olds, has contributed to an increasingly indoor and sedentary lifestyle for many young people.

Last week, President Obama announced a new initiative, dubbed Every Kid in a Park. This initiative will provide all fourth-grade students and their families with free admission to national parks and other federal lands for a year beginning in September 2015. It’s an important step to providing needed access to the outdoors and ensuring that kids across the country have the opportunity to visit America’s national parks and landmarks. President Obama also requested new funding in his FY 2016 Budget to support transportation for school outings to parks for students from low-income areas.

In line with the Administration’s new initiative, NLC is partnering with the Children & Nature Network on the Cities Promoting Access to Nature initiative. This new, three-year project will help city leaders develop and expand strategies for getting more young people outdoors and connected to parks, green space and natural areas, with a focus on children and youth in economically stressed communities.

New National Monuments
Along with the Every Kid in a Park Initiative, the President announced that he is designating three new national monuments, including the Pullman National Monument in Chicago. “What makes Pullman special is the role it plays in our history,” President Obama said on a recent trip to Chicago, where he designated the factory district a national monument. “This place has been a milestone in our journey toward a more perfect union.”

The Pullman District was America’s first planned industrial town, created in the 1880s to house railroad and factory workers. Many of the jobs in the Pullman district went to African Americans, and the site became a symbol of economic opportunity for African Americans and other minority groups. The area was also where the seeds for the modern labor rights movement were planted. In 1894, workers organized a strike after railroad mogul George Pullman refused to lower rents when he lowered wages.

The designation of Pullman as a national monument means that fourth-graders and their families in Chicago, and from cities and towns across the country, will have the opportunity to visit the site (at no charge) and learn about our nation’s rich labor and civil rights history.

EmilyAbout the Author: Emily Pickren is the Principal Associate for Communications in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

Five Ways Cities Can Promote Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs

Providing meals for children through federal Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs is a win-win opportunity for cities. Cities benefit by bringing more federal funds into their neighborhoods, and can improve the health and well-being of low-income children by increasing their access to healthy meals and their participation in fun and safe activities during out-of-school time hours. It is important for mayors and other city leaders to build strong partnerships with stakeholders, such as statewide anti-hunger groups, schools, food banks and other community organizations, to implement meal programs in ways that maximize quality and participation. These stakeholders can serve as important outreach partners that help city leaders connect with their residents to make sure they are aware of the resources available to them. Here are five ways that city leaders can promote afterschool and summer meal programs in their communities. 1. Use the bully pulpit to raise awareness of child hunger and promote out-of-school time meal programs. Local elected officials can write op-eds for local newspapers, emphasize the need for afterschool and summer meal programs in public speeches or at events, and promote afterschool and summer meal programs on the city’s website and through newsletters and social media. Nashville2. Publicize out-of-school time meals through a targeted marketing strategy. An important component of any marketing strategy for out-of-school time meals is a kick-off event. These events can raise awareness about meal programs in a way that brings key stakeholders and families together. Mayors can use kick-off events to frame afterschool and summer meals as a top priority for the city before a large audience of community leaders. Cities can also take advantage of existing national resources such as the National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3HUNGRY) to make meal program site locations and operating hours easily accessible to families. In addition, cities can advertise information about meal sites on utility bills, via robo-calls, or through the city’s 311 information line or the United Way’s 211 information line. Philadelphia3. Sponsor Afterschool or Summer Meal Programs. City agencies such as parks and recreation or departments of housing are well-suited to be sponsors of afterschool and summer meal programs and to host meal sites at local facilities, e.g., recreation centers. Staff from a mayor’s office can also coordinate a working group or task force that focuses on the issue of child hunger and identifies strategies to reduce it, including initiatives to increase participation in out-of-school time meal programs. City staff relationships with key community partners, as well as knowledge of where young people congregate after school and during the summer, are integral to the success of these programs. Houston4. Partner with community organizations that serve afterschool and summer meals. Local nonprofits and other afterschool providers often act as sponsors to provide afterschool and summer meals as well as activities for young people before and/or after meals. Cities can leverage funding for meal programs in partnership with community-based organizations. YEF quotes Boxes-015. Incorporate child nutrition goals into a broader citywide agenda. City leaders can work with staff responsible for broader citywide initiatives such as Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties or other initiatives that focus on children and youth to expand the reach and scope of child nutrition programming. To learn more, check out our new issue brief on afterschool and summer meals. FontanaJamie Nash bio photo About the Author: Jamie Nash is Senior Associate of Benefit Outreach in the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. To learn more about how local government leaders can support out-of-school time meal programs, contact Jamie at nash@nlc.org.

Achievement Gaps, Racial Equity and the Challenges of Family Engagement

Communities can succeed in ensuring that all students achieve their full potential when parents and families are fully engaged as partners and allies.

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Earlier this month, I had the chance to spend two days in Madison, Wisconsin with Mayor Paul Soglin, his senior staff and a variety of key community partners who are working to close opportunity gaps and expand out-of-school time learning across the city.

An early afternoon meeting in Mayor Soglin’s office was half tutorial, half search for answers to vexing questions. Bar graphs flashed across a large, wall-mounted screen, the starting point for a probing discussion of how both white and African American households have fared in Madison and the surrounding county after the Great Recession, and the role that the city’s Neighborhood Resource Teams may have played in recent economic gains. A line graph sparked an energetic conversation about the role that the closure of a local community health center may have played in a sharp upturn in infant mortality among African Americans.

A common thread in the discussion was the attention to racial disparities. Madison has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation between white and African American, Latino and Asian students, a crisis that weighs heavily on the conscience and self-image of this progressive community. Race to Equity, a local effort dedicated to closing these gaps, helps keep the issue and key data at the forefront of city deliberations.

 One key part of the city’s strategy to address its achievement gap, and the critical opportunity gaps that fuel its persistence, was on display the next day in a community conversation hosted by the City of Madison in partnership with NLC and the U.S. Department of Education. The Saturday event, sponsored by the Madison Out-of-School Time (MOST) initiative and held at a local Boys and Girls Club, drew a crowd of more than 100 participants, including Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, Dane County Human Services Director Lynn Green, representatives of community-based organizations and a diverse group of parents and other neighborhood residents.

I greatly appreciated the chance to speak to the group, underscoring the important role that Mayor Soglin has played in NLC’s Mayor’s Education Reform Task Force and the potential for mayoral leadership in expanding learning opportunities for all children. Eddie Martin, Special Assistant for the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education, emphasized Secretary Arne Duncan’s commitment to supporting city-school collaborations that seek to improve public schools and close achievement gaps.

The central message of the day, however, was that Madison can succeed in its efforts to ensure that all students achieve their full potential only if all segments of the community – and most importantly parents and families – are fully engaged as partners and allies. The community conversation organized by Mayor Soglin represented a key first step in that direction.

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About the Author: Clifford M. Johnson is the Executive Director of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Strong Partnerships Yield Better Education Outcomes

This is the seventh post in NLC’s 90th Anniversary series.

ColemanWithKidsNLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn., has made education a centerpiece of his mayoral vision.

As the National League of Cities celebrates its 90th year of service to cities, we are heartened to see that improving educational outcomes for young people has become a top priority for mayors and local elected officials across the country. Although most mayors and other municipal leaders do not have formal authority over school districts, they understand how critical education is to building up their communities. They know that the quality of their schools is directly tied to the quality of life and well-being of their residents.

Mayors and education leaders must work in partnership to help young people succeed. And many are doing just that.

For almost 15 years, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) has been working with mayors and councilmembers in cities across the country to exercise leadership to support K-12 education, expand alternatives for students who struggle in traditional educational settings, increase high school graduation rates and promote college access and completion. We have also been working hand in hand with mayors and councilmembers to expand and improve high quality afterschool programs in communities across the nation.

The YEF Institute has worked with cities to establish local teams to develop action plans with specific goals and measures. Typically led by mayors, these teams are comprised of school superintendents, community- and faith-based organizations, local colleges and universities and business leaders. Over the years we have worked with and assisted mayors in leading local education initiatives — all in partnership with school districts and other community stakeholders.

Partnerships between cities and school districts are powerful because together these entities can collectively own the problems and share in the successes. Examples of successful partnerships that we have helped support over the last 15 years include:

  • In the Institute’s early years we worked with local officials and school leaders to address the persistent student achievement gap and improve literacy and attendance rates in cities such as Columbus, Ohio and Lansing, Mich.
  • During the middle years, we focused on introducing small school models in Indianapolis, Nashville, Tenn., and Newark, N.J. to address the rise in high school dropout rates.
  • In more recent years, we have focused on ensuring that more low-income young people are attending and completing college. We have worked with Mesa, Ariz., Riverside, Calif., and San Francisco among others to establish multi-sector partnerships between mayors, school superintendents and local community colleges. We now have a growing network of 18 cities through our Postsecondary Success City Action Network (P-SCAN), with mayors playing key leadership roles.
  • For 11 years we have maintained a strong network of mayors through the Education Policy Advisors Network, drawn from the 75 largest cities in the U.S. Our Afterschool Policy Advisors Network is also strong. These networks provide city leaders a unique opportunity to share best practices and learn about the latest research in the field.

Most recently, NLC entered into a partnership with the U.S. Department of Education to increase the visibility and understanding of the role that mayors can play in leading educational change in their communities. As a result of this partnership, 15 cities are holding community conversations on education, with a focus on early childhood, afterschool and postsecondary education.

Educated citizens are likely to contribute more to the economy and build a stronger workforce. Businesses are more likely to want to place their anchors in communities with good schools. Mayors and councilmembers care deeply about these issues, and so do we.

The YEF Institute is committed to supporting cities by providing technical assistance, sharing best practices, creating robust peer learning opportunities and developing effective tools to support communities in their work to build better communities by improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all residents.

Audrey Hutchinson

About the Author: Audrey M. Hutchinson is the Program Director of Education and Afterschool Initiatives in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

With So Much at Stake, Mayors Look to Lead on Education

Mayors and community leaders alike recognize that a high quality education system spurs economic development, reduces crime and lifts families out of poverty.

mayor readingNLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn. has made education a priority. Photo credit: chriscoleman.org.

Over the last decade, educators and stakeholders in cities across the country have been engaged in vigorous debate about how to best provide the highest quality education to our children. Controversy over issues such as how to evaluate the performance of both teachers and students, teacher tenure protections and funding formulas have made headlines from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.

Despite the controversy surrounding education reform, cities across the country do share many pedagogical goals. Namely, to provide high quality educational opportunities (in the classroom and beyond) to all children, and to ensure their education equips them with the necessary tools to make good choices about their future.

In our analysis of Mayoral State of the City addresses this year, we discovered that 70% of speeches covered education, and 32% devoted “significant coverage”—at least three paragraphs or more—to the topic. It is clear that cities are working hard to advance early childhood education, eliminate the achievement gap, cut the dropout rate and prepare every student for success in college and career.

In many cities, mayors and other local elected officials have no formal authority over their city’s school system. Mayors are involved in education in a variety of important ways though. As Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio noted in his state of the city address, it is the role of local officials to “bring together extraordinary people from every sector of our community—education, business, labor, nonprofit, the faith community, the school board and City Council to make Columbus the best big city in the nation for educating kids.” Indeed, mayors and community leaders alike recognize that a high quality education system spurs economic development, reduces crime and lifts families out of poverty.

Children are the Future

It may be stating the obvious to say that as we contemplate the future of cities, we’d do well to remember that children are our future. “They represent a source of workforce skills, civic participation, and taxpayer revenue that Durham can ill afford to waste,” Mayor Bill Bell recognized.

Blog 10- 14-14 IYEF-10Many mayors noted their accomplishments in increasing postsecondary access and completion, an area that NLC has a long history of working with cities on. We’re currently working with a diverse group of cities on postsecondary success, including Salt Lake City, San Antonio and Philadelphia. In his address, Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia noted that “in 2007, the number of Philadelphians with a college degree was only 18%. Today, it is almost 25%.” His enthusiasm was tempered with caution however, as he acknowledged, “its progress, but it’s not enough.”

What is enough?

Many cities across the country have adopted a “cradle-to-career” approach to education. To that end, there has been a renewed focus in recent years on the start of a child’s educational journey – early childhood care and education. And for good reason. A growing body of research shows that children with a quality pre-K education are better prepared to succeed in grade school, in high school and beyond. Thirty-four of the mayors in our sample (11%) included pointed remarks in their addresses on the importance of early childhood education.

“We must start when our children are very young. Most brain development occurs in the first three years of life,” stated George Hartwell, Mayor of Grand Rapids, Mich. “Those must be rich, healthy, stimulating years if we are to produce children ready for school.”

Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle summed up the sentiment shared by many of his counterparts with this comment: “I am committed to making affordable preschool available to all children in Seattle before they reach elementary school.”

Cities such as Seattle, Grand Rapids, Mich., Indianapolis and Hartford, Conn., (to name just a few) are making long-term investments in their young residents by allocating resources to early education programs. Hartford has even set a goal to have 100% of preschoolers in school by 2019.

The returns on these investments – a more competitive workforce, the ability to attract and keep more families in cities, fewer residents living in poverty – are the building blocks for creating better communities. To build better communities is the mission of the National League of Cities and, I suspect, the driving force behind the decision of countless mayors and local officials to run for elected office in the first place.

Providing a Local Voice in the National Education Conversation

NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn. has been a leading voice on education at both the local and national levels. With NLC First Vice President Ralph Becker, Mayor of Salt Lake City, he co-chairs NLC’s Mayors’ Education Reform Task Force. The task force was formed in March 2013 to explore how cities can and should be involved in local education reform efforts, and includes mayors from approximately 60 cities. “The perspectives from mayors of cities large to small are valuable to local and national policymakers,” said Mayor Coleman.

This is the fifth blog post in NLC’s State of the Cities 2014 series.

Emily

About the Author: Emily Pickren is the Senior Staff Writer for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

Pay for Success: A New Opportunity for Local Governments to be Catalysts for Change

Calling all participants in the social innovation economy! If you’re a local government interested in social innovation finance or social impact bonds, check out this new opportunity to make impactful social interventions that produce results for communities in need.

Ed-Table-Blog

Through its Social Innovation Fund, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has awarded $1.9 million in grant funding to Third Sector Capital Partners, Inc., a nonprofit advisory firm specializing in Pay for Success (PFS). Third Sector will use the funding to hold an open competition for state and local governments to receive PFS technical advisory services.

SIF Partners LogoNLC is an outreach partner with Third Sector and is working to educate our members and other local government entities on the benefits of PFS and the opportunities presented by this unique project.

To that end, we encourage interested groups to participate in an informational webinar on Friday, October 24th. Third Sector will present more specific information about the competition, discuss eligibility criteria and take questions from participants. Register here.

Pay for Success has received strong bi-partisan support and is also a presidential priority. Federal legislators and leaders from both sides of the aisle recognize and appreciate the benefits of investing in a performance-driven social sector.

The Social Innovation Fund, which is providing funding and support for this project, is a key White House initiative and major program of CNCS that combines public and private resources to grow the impact of innovative, community-based solutions that have compelling evidence of improving the lives of people in low-income communities throughout the U.S.

Emily

About the Author: Emily Pickren is the Senior Staff Writer for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

Reno Tackles Reengagement

Reno, Nev., joins the growing number of cities across the country that are using reengagement centers to address the needs of young people who have left high school.

Washoe County Reengagement Center Photo credit: Washoe County School District

“Two staff members of the Reengagement Center provided my only support. Otherwise I was alone. Because of them, I’m graduating in June 2015 with my class.” These sad yet inspiring words came from Tara Ebbs, a beneficiary of one of the Washoe County, Nevada Reengagement Centers in Reno who is now enrolled at Washoe Innovations High School.

Blog EMILY 10-3-14-03Tara and her classmate Jose Funes – who says he wants to graduate to set an example for his younger brothers – offered soul-stirring talks at a recent meeting among some 20 Reno-area community partners. With the students’ words ringing in their ears, the partners helped Reengagement Center staff develop a sustainability strategy for the initiative launched four years ago under a federal High School Graduation Initiative (HSGI) grant.

Washoe County is among the growing number of sites in the NLC Reengagement Network working to address the particular needs of young people who leave school. Last year’s graduating cohort saw 608 students leave anytime during high school, and the district recorded more than 700 students leaving during the 2013-14 academic year. With these numbers in mind, Washoe County is embarking on efforts to offer re-tooled and better alternative high school settings, including a Big Picture Learning-model school and schools-within-schools at each of the local campuses.

In their first three full years of operation, with four to six operating sites and a staff of as many as seven, the Washoe Reengagement Centers have reconnected about one-third of the pool of students in the sprawling county who left school recently.

An impressive 74 percent of the students re-enrolled through the Centers have “stuck it out” in school for at least the balance of the school year, placing Washoe County on par with the national “stick rate” for reengagement centers. Largely returning to alternative settings, about 20 percent of the re-enrolled students immediately began earning credits at a rate similar to that of traditional high schools students.

In a possibly unique staffing configuration and operating focus for reengagement, three Reengagement Specialists hold primary responsibility for outreach to former students identified as having left school. Three Family Advocates in turn provide case management services to re-enrolling students and their families, in an effort to remove a wide range of barriers students may face and ensure stronger parental/guardian involvement.

Strategic options that Reno reengagement partners will explore – as in other cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago – include a higher-profile role for city government and other county government agencies, stepped-up or more formalized partnerships with nonprofit service providers with expertise serving the older teen population, and a substantially changed and rebalanced mix of funding sources. The community will also focus on how to keep one or more reengagement hubs going.

Look forward to hearing more from Washoe County as it plots its sustainability strategy – and from more success stories such as Tara and Jose.

Andrew MooreAbout the Author: Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

From Low-Skilled to College Ready: Building Pathways for All Youth Who Drop Out- Part 3

Flickr: Gates Foundation

This post was written by Peter Kleinbard, a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. It is the third in a series on dropout reengagement, drawn from the case study: For Young Adults Who Drop Out: Pathways or Merely Stops along the Way? which details the work of two community organizations. The study is funded by the William T. Grant Foundation and The Pinkerton Foundation. To comment, write peterkleinbard@Verizon.net.

In the previous post I highlighted two programs for young adults who have dropped out of school and how they have gained flexibility by convincing funders to support longer periods of service. This post focuses on a major gap in serving youth who have dropped out, the quality of classroom work.

Many young adults drop out because of their struggles in the classroom. While our field has often focused on counseling and work experiences, further education is essential to achieve economic independence.

In the study, Dropping Out: Why Students Drop out of High School and What Can Be Done About It, Russell Rumbergpulls together leading research and concludes: “educational performance…is the single most important predictor of whether students drop out or graduate from high school.” Academics are highlighted again in a recent study that tracked a single cohort of New York City students from elementary through high school: “and only one in three of the students who failed to meet the third-grade [English Language Arts] standard [emphasis added] graduated from high school.”

While numerous factors may contribute to dropping out, such as those highlighted in America’s Promise Alliance’s recent report, disengagement stemming from academic struggles is nearly always central. For young adults to build skills in reading, writing, oral communication and math, they must become engaged in learning. When instruction is done well, young adults take pleasure in learning.

Interviewed youth affirmed research findings as to what keeps them engaged in learning:

  • High interest materials
  • Activities that feel tailored to them as individuals
  • A sense of control from knowing where they stand and what more they need to achieve
  • Caring staff who expresses belief in their success

A Model for Engaging Young Adults in Academic Study

In my study, Site A adopted a model developed by an intermediary rather than creating its own program. Community Education Pathways to Success (CEPS) integrates research findings from youth development with those from instruction and is designed to address the needs and strengths specific to young adults. In this guide, I focus on the literacy component, though the work in math is similar. (For purposes of transparency, I was involved in the development of CEPS.)

The program created a structure of progressively more demanding classes, so that a young adult who enters at any skill level can move up to college preparation. Teachers receive training and ongoing coaching in delivering instruction. For example, they are taught to use high-interest books at reading levels that enable students to experience mastery. Assessments are used both to place students in classes and to target specific skill gaps. Non-instructional staff are trained how to reinforce the work of instructors and meets regularly with instructors as a team to strategize about students. The emphasis is on consistent and systematic application in the classroom and other program components.

Classes are highly structured and therefore follow the same sequence of activities each day. Work is familiar and comfortable to students, even as it increases in difficulty. While focusing on instruction, the model reshapes the entire program as an integrated whole, addressing counseling, transition planning and other components.

Following an encouraging evaluation, the city in which Site A is based adopted the model and is funding several sites to implement it, adding a work experience component. These and other strategies are detailed in documentation about the model and a three-year evaluation of eight sites.

As readers know, the path to financial independence is long and uneven for many young people, especially those with poor skills. For students that desire immediate work experience, Site A’s staff tries to place them so that their work schedules allow continuation in education. In other sites, young adults who had gained solid work skills – carpentry or using common software – acquired jobs, though rarely steady, that provided income so that they could continue their studies. Although many returned, for others there were periodic hiatuses in their participation.

Our challenge as a field is to make sure that we support the hopes for success of young adults with engaging and effective programs. Some are ready to move ahead when they come to our doors; others will need time before they are ready to sustain their commitment. For practitioners, this requires flexibility, a high degree of commitment, and a determination to find and implement approaches with solid evidence of success.

Peter KleinbardAbout the Author: Peter Kleinbard is a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. From 2001 until 2010, he was executive director of the Youth Development Institute, a national intermediary based in New York City. He also founded the Youth Transition Funders, an affinity group for foundations.

Keeping the Promises in Jacksonville, Florida

This post was written by the Honorable Alvin Brown, Mayor, Jacksonville, Florida. It originally appeared on the GradNation blog.

dropout reengagement

As mayor of Jacksonville, I recognize the importance of education to the success and vitality of a city.

By equipping students with the skills they need to achieve their fullest potential, we ensure our city has a talented and competitive workforce ready to meet the challenges of the global economy. Support for education must be the responsibility of the entire community – we all have an interest in providing empowerment and opportunity to our young people.

That’s why it was so important to me to bring a GradNation Community Summit to Jacksonville. I am proud of the way our community has rallied around our children and young people, increasing the graduation rate from 56 percent to 72 percent over the past five years. But we must continue our efforts to close the achievement gap, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed in school and in life.

From the first day I took office in 2011, education has been a top priority in my administration. During my first week in office, I created by executive order the cabinet-level position of education commissioner to carry out my vision for education initiatives that support lifelong learning in our city. The commissioner, Dr. Annmarie Kent-Willette, partners with schools and community organizations to improve the quality and accessibility of educational programs for Jacksonville residents.

Our recent GradNation Community Summit focused on four key issues that require our attention: early childhood education, mentoring and support for at-risk middle school students, literacy and grade-level reading, and African-American male achievement.

I was delighted that Alma Powell was able to join us in person for the summit, and we were honored to host her and the America’s Promise Alliance team in our city, along with the opportunity for our community to hear Mrs. Powell speak so powerfully about our achievements, challenges and goals here in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville’s GradNation advisory council reconvened on May 20 to discuss findings from the summit, and make recommendations about short-term and long-term education goals for our community. One of the goals highlighted by the council and meeting attendees was to meet the continued demand for mentors in our schools.

Our community has rallied around our young people, increasing the graduation rate from 56 percent to 72 percent over the past five years.

I have been so gratified to align our mentoring efforts with Achievers for Life, a dropout prevention initiative developed and funded by the United Way of Northeast Florida in partnership with Communities in Schools of Jacksonville and Jewish Family and Community Services.  Serving the community since 2007, Achievers for Life has expanded from two to ten middle schools with plans for additional schools in the near future. By leveraging the influence of my office in support of our students, my Mayor’s Mentors program has successfully placed over 600 screened and trained mentors with youth considered at-risk for dropping out of school. I have been able to connect students at these schools with diverse opportunities including visits by NBA Legends players to talk about the importance of staying in school, to science enrichment opportunities offered by partnerships with DuPont, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the United States Military Academy at West Point.

At our city’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast earlier this year, I announced a citywide youth initiative to improve opportunities for Jacksonville’s next generation, recognizing that we must invest in their success and help them take their lives in the right direction. An important aspect of this initiative is helping young people who are first-time offenders stay out of further trouble by expanding Teen Court and Neighborhood Accountability Boards.

These programs follow a restorative justice model, allowing students to be accountable for their mistakes through sanctions such as public apologies, community service, and other rehabilitative measures. Successful completion of these requirements means they avoid a criminal record that could otherwise foreclose future educational and employment opportunities.  By guarding young people who have made minor mistakes from the harsh realities of the criminal justice system, we give them the opportunity to stay focused on their education and enter adulthood with a clean slate.

The overwhelming percentage of students not only fulfill the requirements, but also take to heart the lessons they learned through the experience. Consider that 92 percent of juveniles who appear before Teen Court and Neighborhood Accountability Board in Duval County successfully complete the program. Of those students, 91 percent are not rearrested within the next year. Statewide, these programs boast a 4 percent recidivism rate, the lowest of any Florida juvenile justice program.

Additionally, through the expansion of this initiative, young people are receiving increased quality of care as Teen Court monitors work with them identifying needs for mental health services for trauma, neglect, or sexual abuse, as well as substance abuse counseling.

Recognizing the wealth of resources within our own community, we have partnered with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and other youth services groups in Jacksonville to increase funding for a system of care that will help young people with mental health and/or substance abuse problems access services. By reversing a damaging trend of low funding for these vital services, we are able to improve the lives of young people who face the highest risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Together we can give hope for a healthier, more productive future and the opportunity to succeed. That hope has the power to transform our young people, and we must honor our shared responsibility to stand by them during that transformation, nurturing the self-respect, self-confidence and self-discipline they need to succeed in school and in life.

MayorAlvinBrownFormal

 Alvin Brown is the Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida. He was elected in 2011 and education is one of his top priorities, along with job creation, downtown revitalization, and public safety.

NLC at 90: Supporting Our Nation’s Veterans

NLC is celebrating 90 years of making cities better place to live. Read the anniversary kick-off letter from NLC President Chris Coleman, mayor of Saint Paul, Minn.

NLC supported veteran education opportunities following the Vietnam War. Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

As NLC celebrates its 90th anniversary, we again join the nation in pausing this Memorial Day weekend to reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

Today, as in the past, cities face the reality of thousands of veterans returning home from the battlefield. With their unique skills and experiences, veterans are assets to our communities.

To support veterans and their families, NLC works with local leaders to ensure our veterans successfully reintegrate into communities after their time in the military has ended.

In the wake of the Vietnam War, NLC partnered with the Office of Economic Opportunity to establish the Veterans’ Education and Training Services (VETS) program. The program worked with veteran “peer counselors” in Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, Providence, Seattle and Wichita.

Peer counselors worked with veterans to help them connect to education and training programs, employment counseling, housing and other services.

In the program’s first three and a half years, more than 25,000 veterans were connected to some form of assistance. An outside evaluation of the VETS program noted, “The most effective programs tended to be those with strong ties to local governmental agencies.”

Today, NLC’s work to support veterans continues. As the country’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan declines, our military is undergoing force reductions due to changing global needs. The confluence of these factors with an economy continuing to recover from the Great Recession has led to veteran unemployment rates that have been above the national average, particularly for veterans who have served after September 11th.

These challenges are one element that can explain why young veterans and their families are already being seen among the ranks of our nation’s homeless.

To help end this national tragedy by the federal goal of 2015, NLC has partnered with The Home Depot Foundation. By supporting cities, sharing best practices and engaging with local efforts, The Home Depot Foundation, NLC and cities have been a part of a 24 percent decline in veteran homelessness since 2010.

This progress is due to a focused effort by the President and agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. While these federal agencies have provided resources and technical support to communities, it has been the collaborative work driven by city leaders that has powered this change.

From San Diego to Salt Lake City, Phoenix to St. Paul, New Orleans to Washington, D.C., cities are at the center of efforts that are uniting all levels of government with the non-profit community, faith communities, the business sector and philanthropies.

Cities will always be hubs of economic activity and services. Ensuring veterans receive the dignity of a safe place to call home and the opportunity to continue serving their community has been a hallmark of NLC’s first 90 years.

Moving forward, NLC and our members will continue our presence on the front lines to honor our veterans and their families.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.