Washington, D.C. — While the path toward post-secondary education and gainful employment is a long, hard journey for youths who’ve dropped out of school, community-based organizations can make the trip a lot easier if they furnish the youths with focused instruction, a safe environment and caring adults.
Those were the essential lessons shared Friday at an American Youth Policy Forum event titled “A Comprehensive Approach to Success in Education and Careers for Out-of-School Youth.”
Speaking at Hart Senate Office building, the four forum panelists discussed their collective experience serving out-of-school youths in one of the poorest sections of The Bronx through a program called Community Education Pathways to Success (CEPS).
The program was developed by New York City-based Youth Development Institute, or YDI, to address the needs of out-of-school youths with low academic skills, said Peter Kleinbard, DYI”s executive director. He said these youths often get short shrift under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) because of its emphasis on outcomes; out-of-school youth simply take longer to achieve those outcomes than other youths in the programs.
“Whatever you think about WIA, it is the major source of funding for this population [out-of-school youth],” Kleinbard said.
“The measures in WIA are designed for relatively high-skill kids,” he said. “So if a contractor gets WIA grants and needs outcomes for GED or job placement, it serves as a disincentive for working with youngsters who are going to take a long time to get there.”
In a nutshell, the program – designed to be implemented at the community level – is meant to get out-of-school youths to improve their math and reading skills enough to start working on their GEDs so they can take advantage of the post-secondary education and training needed to boost their chances of getting a good job.
Based on a three-year study, the program showed promising results, with roughly a third of the youths who participated in the program enrolling in a GED program within one academic year. Youth Today summarized the study in January.
“This has been the fastest, most effective that I’ve seen,” said panelist Patricia Campbell, a veteran educational researcher and evaluator who studied CEPS.
On average, within five months, Campbell said, youths who participated in the program improved their reading skills from a sixth grade level to nearly an eighth grade level, and their math skills from roughly a fifth grade level to a sixth grade level.
Those gains may not sound impressive to some, but Campbell said they are important incremental steps for youths who need to pick up where they left off and get to at least an eighth grade level to take the GED.
“The alternative is to leave them where they are, which isn’t an acceptable alternative,” Campbell said.
In the Southwest Bronx’s Mount Eden neighborhood, the CEPS program – which costs roughly $5,000 to $8,000 per youth – has been implemented by New Settlement Apartments, a nonprofit housing development of 15 renovated buildings and one new building that houses roughly 1,000 low-income families. Most of the families are black or Latino and many are immigrants.
Taking a step back
Jack Doyle executive director of New Settlement Apartments, said his organization got involved with CEPS at the behest of Youth Development Institute and saw the value of the program because many youths were not ready to benefit from the services of a college access center that his organization started.
“It became very clear that many of them were not prepared for even the lowest-paying jobs,” Doyle said.
Vivian Vazquez, Initiative Director at Youth Development Institute, said the math and reading instruction offered through CEPS is “very specific” and deals with teaching youths “strategies for unpacking” the lessons and being able to analyze information and apply what they’ve learned.
The days are characterized by daily routines and rituals and a “very clear structure for youths so they can expect what they have to do and expect what adults in class will provide.”
The program also features goal-setting and regular check-ins with an instructor about how youths are doing and how far they have to go before they’re ready to enter a GED program. A classroom library provides youths exposure to a wide range of reading materials.
CEPS has been expanded to include career development, transition to GED and post-secondary support. The program incorporates youth development principles, such as safety and belonging, continuity, engaging activities, high expectations, competence and mastery, and relationships with caring adults.
Safety, Vazquez said, means more than just physical safety.
“This means psychological safety, which is very important for this population,” Vazquez said. “Some are several years behind in reading, which can be very embarrassing.”
Doyle, the New Settlement Apartments president, said CEPS has shown that with the trust and respect of community residents, appropriate space, a youth development philosophy, technical assistance and financial support and an on-site evaluator, “there can be significant progress made.”