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.

Cities Can Still Help Children and Families Get Health Insurance

“It doesn’t matter why people don’t have insurance; what matters is that we help them get it.”
-Valerie McDonald Roberts, City of Pittsburgh

<> on July 20, 2010 in New York, New York. (Getty Images)

Although the 2015 deadline to enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s Healthcare Marketplace has passed, there are still ways for children and families to get covered. Depending on household size and income, children and families may qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and enrollment for both programs is available 365 days a year.

Medicaid and CHIP provide free or low-cost benefits to eligible families, including:

  • Coverage for inpatient and outpatient hospital services
  • Screenings and preventative services
  • Prescription drugs
  • Immunizations
  • Mental health services

For the last two years, NLC has been working with local leaders to connect families to these important public health insurance programs through our Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families (CEHACF) initiative. Cities have a vested interest in expanding coverage for children and families. When families have health insurance, the burden on hospital emergency rooms is reduced, families avoid the sky-high medical debt that often results in a financial crisis and children are healthier, which means parents take less time off of work to care for sick kids.

The eight cities participating in CEHACF are implementing a variety of effective strategies to get eligible children and families in their communities enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP. These include working with community organizations to coordinate citywide outreach events, conducting targeted outreach, e.g., school-based outreach and training city staff to provide one-on-one enrollment assistance. These cities are working to improve access to coverage for their residents because they know that having health coverage improves the quality of life for families and provides a level of economic and emotional security that families not only need, but deserve.

As Valerie McDonald Roberts, Chief Urban Affairs Officer for Mayor Bill Peduto in Pittsburgh noted in her recent op-ed, “When you find yourself telling your children that they can’t break an arm or a finger not only because it will hurt or take a long time to heal, but also because you can’t afford to take them to the hospital, you feel vulnerable.” With Medicaid and CHIP, no family needs to feel vulnerable.

The bottom line, as McDonald Roberts aptly puts it, is that “when you visit the doctor, the people at the front desk don’t care who issued your insurance card. They just want to see that you have one.”

What is your city doing to promote Medicaid and CHIP enrollment? Let us know by contacting Dawn Schluckebier at schluckebier@nlc.org.

Dawn Schluckebeir_headshot
About the Author:
Dawn Schluckebier is a Senior Associate for Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Dawn on Twitter at @TheSchluck.

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.

Boston Youth Inspire Peers Nationally

This post was written by Stephanie Killiam, a summer intern for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families.


The Boston Youth Zone deserves a huge spotlight for their historic involvement in the nation’s first ever youth-led participatory budgeting project. Last November, Boston’s former Mayor Thomas Menino challenged Boston’s Youth to decide how to spend $1 million of the city’s capital budget.

As a result of the challenge, the Boston Youth Council encouraged Boston’s youth and young adults to become involved in the decision for allocating the funds. The city’s adopted 2014 fiscal budget is set at $2.6 billion, allowing the youth community to take control of 3.8 percent of the city’s budget.

Boston named the nation’s first youth participatory budgeting process, Youth Lead the Change. The goal of the groundbreaking process is not only to encourage citizen participation in government funding but also to allow the youth voice to be heard. This project is founded on the belief that citizens, specifically youth, will show more interest initially and in the long-term when given the power to be engaged in community decisions. During the brainstorming process, youth and the community are educated on what projects would be eligible for capital funding.

The participatory budgeting process includes four steps:

  1. Community members brainstorm ideas;
  2. Volunteers translate the ideas into project proposals;
  3. Community members vote on most needed or most popular projects; and
  4. The projects with the most votes are funded.

In March 2014, a steering committee had seven brainstorming sessions allowing youth to voice their ideas on how to allocate the $1 million. Youth unable to attend the sessions could submit their ideas online. Youth volunteers, identified as “change agents,” compiled the online and youth assembly submissions for review. These change agents, with the help of contracted adult experts, worked together to research and design program proposals for the shared ideas. After completion of the program proposals, youth chose 14 of the best projects to advance to the community ballot.

For six consecutive days, beginning June 14, Boston youth residents ages 12 to 25 took to the polling stations. Each ballot listed a total of 14 projects in one of four categories: Streets and safety; Parks, Environment and Health; Community and Culture; and Education. Voters selected their favorite four projects, one per category. Boston’s youth community, ages 12 to 25, includes a population of approximately 150,000 residents. From this population the polling stations collected over 1,500 eligible votes.

The result of the first ever youth participatory budgeting process includes the selection of seven capital funding projects, an estimated budget and a description of the funding details. The selected projects are:

  1. Franklin Park Playground and Picnic Area Update ($400,000)
  2. Boston Art Walls ($60,000)
  3. Chromebooks for High Schools in East Boston, South Boston, and Charlestown ($90,000)
  4. Skate Park Feasibility Study ($50,000)
  5. Security Cameras for Dr. Loesch Family Park ($110,000)
  6. Paris Street Playground Extreme Makeover ($100,000)
  7. New Sidewalks for New Parks ($105,000)

The spotlight will continue to shine on Boston as youth councils and committees across the country anticipate completion of the Youth Lead the Change Participatory Budgeting improvement projects. Best practices for youth civic engagement efforts such as youth summits, youth councils/advisory boards, and voting youth positions on city boards and commissions, in the past have yielded many positive results.

To learn more about youth civic engagement and to network with youth leaders across the country, attend the 90th Anniversary Congress of Cities Conference and Exhibition in Austin, Texas, November 19-22, 2014. The Harnessing the Strenth of Millennials and Boomers in Your Community workshop will highlight how cities are engaging the millennial and baby boomer generations in decision making.


Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families Initiative: Lessons from the Planning Phase


After a very short six months, we have come to the conclusion of the Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families (CEHACF) project’s planning phase. On May 30, 2014, NLC received business plans from all 12 cities for outreach campaigns to enroll children and families in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Business plans are currently under review and NLC will select approximately six cities to receive implementation grants in July 2014. These grants will support cities with up to $260,000 each and ongoing technical assistance over 18 months during the initiative’s final phase to implement outreach campaigns.

Medicaid and CHIP are the nation’s two most important public health insurance programs for families, and are available year-round. Unlike purchasing private insurance through the Marketplace, there is no open enrollment period for Medicaid or CHIP which will allow eligible families to enroll at any time.

Mayors and local elected officials have a vested interest in connecting children and families to Medicaid and CHIP, providing a powerful role for cities to play in making that connection. NLC has learned some important lessons through the CEHACF planning phase which are outlined below to help interested city leaders with campaign planning.

  1. City Leaders and Stakeholders are Motivated by Better Health Outcomes for Kids
    During the planning phase, we anonymously surveyed initiative participants consisting of local elected officials, senior city staff members, school administrators, representatives from hospitals and clinics, and other community partners to understand what motivated them to become involved in health benefit outreach. The number one response from 29 out of 33 respondents was to help create better health outcomes for kids. The number two response from only two respondents was to reduce city costs related to uninsured populations. The cynic in me found this discovery very surprising, since I thought the primary motivating factor would be financially-rooted, but it turns out community leaders just want kids to have a healthy start in life! With this information, we hope city leaders can better develop messaging strategies to enlist and motivate community partners to engage in health benefit outreach.
  1. Assess the Market
    In the private sector, the saying goes, “know your customer.” Similarly, to effectively reach families and connect them to Medicaid and CHIP, local leaders need to understand their target audience(s). As part of the planning phase, initiative participants were encouraged to conduct market analyses through community surveys, focus groups, and interviews to learn about the specific needs, attitudes, and preferences of target populations. Through this exercise, initiative participants not only gained an awareness of community outreach needs, but also an understanding of existing services and how to fill service gaps. With greater knowledge about community needs, cities can custom design outreach strategies tailored for their communities, which will hopefully lead to more effective outreach and enrollment strategies.
  1. Sustain Outreach and Enrollment Initiatives by Incorporating them into Existing Systems
    At the planning phase cross-site meeting in March, one participant shared that unless new outreach and enrollment initiatives can be sustained over time, they should not even be initiated. This statement really struck me, as it did—I think, for many other meeting participants. The statement led us into a discussion about how to sustain outreach and enrollment efforts, and through this dialogue, we concluded that efforts can be more readily sustained if they are incorporated into existing community programs and systems. This might be done through 2-1-1 information and referral systems, parks and recreation departments, libraries, school districts, or Head Start offices.  There are many other ways to incorporate outreach and enrollment efforts into existing city programs and systems and city leaders can be creative in considering existing community structures that can help sustain efforts.

As we move into the implementation phase of the CEHACF initiative, we will continue to share our lessons with the hope that more cities will be motivated to develop outreach and enrollment campaigns. After all, children and families in communities all over the U.S. are currently eligible for Medicaid and CHIP, but may not know it. All it might take is for a city leader to help make a connection!

For more information about the CEHACF initiative, contact Chuan Teng at teng@nlc.org to find out which cities will move into the implementation phase, please visit the Institute for Youth, Education and Families website on July 14!

Summer Vacation Doesn’t Have to be a Break from Healthy Meals for Kids

Summer Meals KidsNo matter how many years have passed since you were in school, you probably haven’t forgotten that feeling of anticipation for summer vacation as school winds down for the year. Remember starting to get antsy sitting in class and thinking about sleeping in, homework-free afternoons and the hot summer sun? However, as those familiar with child nutrition programs know, there is a different kind of anticipation felt by kids whose only regular source of meals comes from breakfast, lunch and for some, afterschool meals.

Free meals offered by the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) seek to fill that void for children 18 and under so they won’t go hungry during the summer, and as a result can enjoy their out-of-school time more fully. However, the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) reports that in the summer of 2012, only 1 in 7 of the low-income children receiving free or reduced price meals during the school year were also served by summer meal programs. That means over 85 percent of these children missed out on the opportunity for a healthy meal.

This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) declared this week (June 2-8) “Summer Meals Awareness Week” in an effort to get the word out and increase participation in these meal programs so that more kids in need are benefiting from free and healthy meals this summer.

NLC, in coordination with FRAC, is currently providing grants and assistance to 15 cities to help them promote and expand participation in afterschool and summer meal programs. While each city’s approach is unique, they have all formed partnerships that incorporate representatives from mayors’ offices or other city departments, local school districts and anti-hunger organizations and/or food banks. These partnerships make clear the crucial role that city government can and should play in ensuring that children have access to healthy meals during the summer months. Below are examples of how two of these cities are working to promote summer meals.

Kansas City, Kansas

KC summer mealsOn May 1, Healthy Communities Wyandotte, housed within the Unified Government of Kansas City and Wyandotte County Public Health Department, hosted a Mayor’s Food Summit. This event brought together over 200 community leaders and residents to discuss the overall goal of increasing residents’ access to healthy fruits and vegetables. The summit featured discussion on increasing availability of nutritious foods in schools and utilizing federal child nutrition programs to improve health outcomes for participating students (in addition to utilization of school gardens and implementing farm-to-school food service). Research has shown that students receiving afterschool meals have a higher daily intake of fruits, vegetables and key nutrients than those that do not.

Mayor Mark Holland spoke of his vision for all residents to have access to healthy foods, better nutrition and a high quality of life. Incorporating the goals of the summit with news of plans for a healthy downtown campus, Mayor Holland spoke of his hope to create a national model to improve urban health. In addition to strong mayoral support for improving residents’ health outcomes, the Kansas City team is utilizing new marketing materials advertising summer meals, and a map of summer meal sites available on the Kansas City Kansas Public Schools website to promote this year’s summer meals.

Providence, Rhode Island

Providence Summer MealsThe Healthy Communities Office, established by Mayor Angel Taveras to focus on healthy living policies, community coordination and systems change in Providence, is working closely with the Parks and Recreation Department and the Rhode Island Community Food Bank to increase participation in this year’s summer meal program.

Utilizing their pass-through grant funds, the team developed a number of marketing materials designed to spread the word — in both English and Spanish — about the availability of free summer meals for kids and teens 18 and under. The messages will appear around the city on printed banners, posters and city street lights; will be sent home with students on door hangers for parents; and will appear on flags posted by tents covering the summer meal sites. In addition to printed materials, the city is making use of local English and Spanish radio stations to deliver the message to parents about where their kids can access free meals this summer. This multi-faceted marketing campaign, combined with a kickoff event in early July, will promote the program to kids and families throughout the city.

As schools around the country begin to close for the summer, many school districts, city parks and recreation departments, city recreation centers, public housing facilities, YMCAs, Boys and Girls clubs, summer camps, migrant centers and Indian reservations are hard at work to ensure that teens and kids have access to nutritional food when they are not in school.

In addition to schools, local governments and nonprofit organizations can also serve as summer meal sponsors. Check out the USDA’s website to learn more about how to become a summer meal site or sponsor, or to learn about where summer meal sites are in your communities.

Also be sure to check out FRAC’s new report, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report 2014. The report indicates that participation in summer meal programs increased 5.7 percent from summer 2012 to summer 2013, the largest increase in ten years. This growth, which they credit to the tireless work of USDA staff and national, state and local stakeholders to promote participation in summer meal programs, is an encouraging sign for cities investing in program promotion.


Dawn Schluckebeir_headshot

About the Author: Dawn Schluckebier is an Associate for Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Highlighting Advances in City Policy for Disconnected Youth

The annual member’s forum of the National Youth Employment Coalition serves as a hothouse of ideas for advancing young people through work and education, in the face of the ongoing youth jobs deficit and dropout crisis.

This year, three cities’ approaches to better policy and practice for disconnected youth stand out for their breadth and inventiveness. After ten years of policy attention to disconnected youth, perhaps this marks the beginning of a solid wave of broad citywide stage-setting and improved resource allocation and alignment. Which city will “catch the wave” next?

  • In San Diego, the regional Workforce Partnership has incorporated a focus on dropout reengagement in its current request for proposals for youth case management services funded under the Workforce Investment Act. As with the Los Angeles reengagement network of 16 reengagement centers, San Diego’s approach has a high potential for sustainability and for links to jobs, because it blends federal workforce funds with ongoing activities of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). For a target group of “youth who are at-severe risk of dropout or who have dropped out of school…the funded proposer will partner with SDUSD to expand their dropout recovery efforts and enhance supports provided to those students who are at severe risk of dropout due to chronic absences, credit deficiency, low reading and math skills and English language proficiency.”
  • In San Francisco, Mayor Edwin Lee commissioned the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families led a 16-month effort to update the city’s policy framework and objectives for Transition-Age Youth (TAY). In a process thoroughly informed by youth voices and vetted by numerous other participating city agencies, the document sets out baseline conditions and establishes measurable objectives for improving transitions for the 8,000 transition-age youth in need of additional supports in the city. An appendix offers a glance back at the path-breaking 2007 recommendations of the Mayor’s Transitional Youth Task Force (one-third of whom are youth) and a sample letter from the mayor that other cities could readily adapt to launch the policy development process among city agencies.
  • In Boston, now undergoing its first mayoral transition in 20 years, advocates and service providers from three coalitions focused on disconnected/opportunity youth came together to develop recommendations for the incoming Walsh Administration.   The brief document highlights ways the new mayor can lead to connect the city’s 12,000 youth and young adults who are not progressing in school and who are not employed. Nontraditional yet plausible roles for Mayor Martin J. Walsh include leading on development of postsecondary and career pathways, expanding alternative education options and supports, and appointing a school superintendent who will maintain a focus on recovering out-of-school youth. Expanding employment options for high school students and disconnected youth makes the short list as well.

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

Dropout Reengagement Extends Reach in 2013, Pursues New Heights in 2014

At its second national meeting in 2012, the NLC Dropout Reengagement Network set out a number of ambitious goals for itself. These included extending the outreach of the Network further; creating a sense of urgency around the need for reengagement; continuing peer learning; informing federal policy; providing students a voice; and demonstrating impact through narrative and numbers. One year has passed, and the Network can point to accomplishments on all these fronts! But before I dive into that good news, consider this vignette from Boston – the city that hosted our first Network convening two short years ago.

April Mae Smith dropped out of Madison High School in May, 2012. April briefly enrolled in the Re-Engagement Center (REC) to earn enough credits to become a senior that fall. But her heart wasn’t in it and she quickly dropped out, moved to Rhode Island to live with her boyfriend, started doing drugs, became pregnant and ended up homeless. Fortunately this interlude was relatively brief, and by fall 2012, April was looking for a way to turn things around so she could provide a better life for herself and her child. “I decided I wanted to graduate before my son was born,” says April, now 19. When April returned to school, she again turned to the REC. She delivered her son this June and about the same time, earned her diploma from the Boston Adult Technical Academy. Now she is enrolling in nursing school with assistance from REC staff. She credits the program with helping her get back on track. “The REC staff always told me if I needed help, to just ask,” April says. “I learned a lot more there than what I would have learned in the classroom. When I graduated, I was one of the top students.”

With that shining story of personal progress in mind, the Network’s 2013 convening in Los Angeles now opens — extending participation and purpose beyond reengagement to and through college, thanks to co-sponsoring partnerships with the National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC) and Zero Dropouts. Once again, the number of self-financed participants in the convening has doubled, such that what was a Network is now on the verge of becoming a movement.

This is not just a year of accomplishments; this is a year of clarifying nationwide results and impact. Network members reached agreement around a few common measures, and voluntarily submitted data compiled by NLC interns and Matt Mendoza of the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC). We learned that centers in 14 cities made initial outreach to more than half of those on dropout lists.  More than 10,000 young people received referrals to education options from a reengagement center or program, and for 6,000 of those youth, centers received confirmation of enrollment. Of those enrolled, 73 percent completed a full additional year of school or graduated.

In addition to recruiting the national meeting co-sponsors, we looked for strategic outreach and leveraging opportunities. This led to reengagement discussions at high policy levels in the U.S. Department of Education and with members of the rapidly growing Gateway to College National Network. Education Week chose reengagement as the topic for a special pull-out section, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation provided just-in-time support for publication of the new NLC Municipal Action Guide on reengagement, released this week and already drawing media interest.

The Network continues to grow from the ground up, thanks in large part to ample practice sharing. Chicago launched three reengagement centers. Washington State’s Open Doors initiative grew from 3 to 22 programs. Washington, DC commissioned a feasibility study, and plans to launch its center in April, 2014. The California Assembly formed a Select Committee on Addressing Out of School, Unemployed Youth, and in Congress, Rep. Jared Polis’ office completed drafting of the first ever federal reengagement bill – suitable to serve as an amendment to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

As the Network and new partners gather in Los Angeles, opportunities abound to discuss where to go next. One focus area to carry over from last year and build upon: propelling former dropouts forward into options to gain postsecondary credentials. A perennial issue involves using the demand for reengagement to drive creation of many more high quality school completion options. And the “new GED” and GED alternatives waiting around the corner in 2014 surely pose challenges for the broader “ecosystem” of alternative education.

Yet the past three years show that this is a Network that constantly reaches for new heights. So with those heights in mind, I look forward to pursuing these questions:

• What shall the Network do to advance the federal policy ideas built into the draft Polis legislation?

• What other states could emulate Washington and spread reengagement programs via state policy and local determination? (Massachusetts, Oregon, California – are you in the house?)

• What city or district – or coalition of districts – in partnership with Community-Based Organizations, will reprogram resources to expand alternative schools rapidly?

• Who will follow Los Angeles’ inspiration with the Workforce Incentive Fund, to identify and use a federal funding source to expand reengagement locally?

• How will we sustain the census of reengagement programs, and continue to add precision to our counting of results?

* Are the more experienced members of the Network ready for an external evaluation of their effectiveness and impact?

• How will the 21 cities involved in the high-profile Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund tackle the need for reengagement capacity?

• What other philanthropies will join the CS Mott and Annie E. Casey Foundations to lend their support to advance reengagement nationwide?

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

South Carolina Nonprofit Pioneers a Model for Teaching Children in Need

Scampering into the cafeteria at 2:30 in the afternoon, children at Chicora Elementary School in North Charleston, South Carolina begin to cluster themselves into groups on the cafeteria floor.  Monday through Friday, 1 in 3 students excitedly enters the transformed space gushing with energy.  On the surface, this looks like your typical afterschool program — the kids eat string cheese, drink from juice boxes and chatter loudly while gearing up for an afternoon of hands-on projects, games and homework help.

However, the WINGS for Kids program advances learning in several pivotal ways which diverge from everyday classroom material.  Every element of the program has a carefully planned curriculum with objectives that aim to build social and emotional skills in their young participants, such as identifying feelings, regulating emotional responses and predicting the consequences of one’s actions — all taught in the guise of fun.

By including these fundamental skills into its programming, WINGS for Kids joins several other afterschool programs across the country in teaching Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) to advance children’s long-term success in life.

Social and Emotional Skills Help Students Overcome Hardships

SEL is the process through which we learn to recognize and manage emotions, care about others, make good decisions, behave ethically and responsibly, develop positive relationships and avoid negative behaviors.  It is the process through which students enhance their ability to integrate thinking, feeling and behaving in order to achieve important life tasks.  The International Bureau of Education, from the International Academy of Education, also defines social-emotional skills, or “emotional intelligence”, as “the set of abilities that allow students to work with others, learn effectively and serve essential roles in their families, communities and places of work.”

The inclusion of social and emotional skills as small daily reminders in every aspect of the program’s afternoon serves larger programmatic goals for the  WINGS program.  The organizers believe students possessing strong social and emotional skills are better able to overcome the hardships in their low-income neighborhood, as well as learn more in school and ultimately become better workers, friends, spouses and parents.  The WINGS motto: “Soar more, struggle less” further illustrates these beliefs.

These children, who are socially and emotionally intact, can make better decisions, and learn to be  responsible for their own behavior.  However, for many of our readers as well as the nation’s parents, social and emotional learning is merely a label given to a curriculum without a clear understanding of the barriers it addresses and the student outcomes it produces.

Social and Emotional Challenges Hinder Student Performance

In order to better cater to students’ holistic development, SEL was implemented to cater specifically to children who faced challenges in their home and community much like many of the youth participants at WINGS for Kids.  Many of these children came to school hungry, stressed, abused, distressed and were bullied or served as the school’s bully. Children, who live under these circumstances, have been proven to experience academic difficulties such as the ones WINGS attendees were experiencing prior to the program’s inception.

As a proponent of social and emotional learning systems, Dr. Maurice Elias, a child psychologist and leading expert on SEL from Rutgers University, explains the dangers of omitting social-emotional programs from our children’s classrooms in one of his published reports.  He maintains that many of the problems in our schools are the result of social and emotional malfunction from which too many children have suffered and continue to bear the consequences. Children in class who are beset by an array of confused or hurtful feelings cannot and will not learn effectively.  These youth are frequently identified as the students who filter into schools from low-income neighborhoods and underprivileged areas.

Yet there are many non-supporters of SEL who protest that this type of learning must be done outside of and separate from traditional schooling.  Dr. Elias states that these ideals are misinformed, harmful and may doom us to continued frustration in our academic mission and the need for teachers who must increasingly dedicate valuable classroom time to behavioral damage control and repair, rather than constructive classroom instruction and student engagement.

These insights from experts have alerted educators to the critical value of holistic education, which involves the stimulation and training of both a child’s cognitive and developmental functioning.  By strengthening and increasing social-emotional educational opportunities, we will increase our children’s capacity to learn, give them the tools to aspire to personal and professional achievements and enable them to experience personal satisfaction.  By organizing the educational environment to focus on holistic development as opposed to just cognitive growth, students’ academics/ school involvement will also increase as they are individualized, personalized and made to feel as if they belong to the fabric of their school.

SEL Advances Positive Student Outcomes

Allowing WINGS to again serve as our prototype, the program’s structure of inclusive conversations addressing emotions and real life experiences, group enrichment activities and the presence of socially/emotionally adept teachers, WINGS is able to facilitate students’ holistic advancement.

Along with being an innovative beacon within the social and emotional learning community, WINGS also strives to be a resource to other programmers by providing free SEL incorporated tools, guidelines, activities for afterschool programs and other related material.

If you have an interest in incorporating these materials into your own program or know of other initiatives which may benefit from WINGS supplemental materials, please visit the Wings resource page on edutopia. As for community partners who wish to make the complete transition into the SEL world and are looking for implementation strategies, the edutopia website also houses materials for starting an afterschool SEL program.

blog-photo-marleynaMarleyna currently serves as an intern on the Afterschool team at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. If you wish to contact Marleyna, email her at greene@nlc.org.

Getting to One Million – and Beyond

Last week’s initial meeting of the Opportunity Youth Network, a group of funders, corporations, the National Council of Young Leaders, and national organizations including NLC, provided an opportunity to confront a pressing national challenge:  how to reconnect one million of  the nation’s seven million “opportunity youth” with education and employment over the next two years.  Opportunity youth, which NLC has typically referred to as disconnected youth, constitute those young adults ages 16-24 who are out of school and out of work.

When thinking about “getting to one million,” the math may seem daunting.  How can national, regional, and local efforts add up to one million in the span of two years when at present national program networks such as youth corps, YouthBuild, and Job Corps – all built up over three-plus decades — likely reconnect at most 100,000 youth and young adults per year. We’re talking about an order-of-magnitude shift here.

  • The first 100,000 youth – a 10 percent down payment on the goal — could reconnect through the momentum provided by plans to launch a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, a partnership initiative propelled by the secretaries of the Departments of Interior and Agriculture as well as leadership of the EPA and other federal agencies that support conservation and historic preservation.
  • The 20 cities that are part of the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund could take collective responsibility for reconnecting another 100,000 youth over the next two years.
  • Corporate partners involved with the Opportunity Youth Network, along with partners such as mayors, workforce boards, service corps, and community action agencies could target their resources to providing initial employment experiences for 50,000 – 100,000 youth per year.
  • A consortium of well-endowed universities could follow the inspiration of Tulane University President Scott Cowen to develop work and education pathways, perhaps in tandem with local community colleges, for another 50,000 youth.

With these four proposals, we’re at 300,000 – 350,000, well over the 25 percent mark.  But none of the above will be possible without a substantial re-allocation of resources. Now seeking ideas from colleagues and young people nationwide to keep the numbers aggregating to one million…or more. Provide your ideas in the comments section or email me at moore@nlc.org.

P.S. Behind the math rests the parallel challenge of defining “reconnection” in a way that is meaningful, rigorous, and achievable.  It’s not easy for anyone to sustain permanent labor market connections these days, much less young people just starting out.  So perhaps it will be sufficient to “count” paid work experiences lasting at least three to six months as evidence of reconnection.

Similarly, we need an education measurement, perhaps one that captures finishing a high school level credential or taking the first steps toward a postsecondary credential.  To smooth over the inevitable bumps of early adulthood, could reconnection also involve a new legion of mentors, trained to develop and sustain one-on-one supportive relationships?  I await the discussion, eagerly.

Andrew Moore

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