A question the various education systems in Detroit need to answer is: What are the skills, dispositions, and habits youth need to develop that might serve as indicators of a successful school eco-system? Another question might be: what role does the community, in particular, after school programs, have in supporting and promoting building the skills their youth participants need to be successful in all areas of life? Attendance Works is a national initiative that promotes awareness of the important role that school attendance plays in achieving academic success. They have quoted multiple examples of how after school programs play an integral role in encouraging students to attend school on a regular basis. In Providence, RI, students who participated in the AfterZone, a system of youth development opportunities focused on middle school students, had a 25% lower rate of absenteeism than their counterparts who didn’t attend after school programs.
Research shows that good afterschool programs can not only improve academic performance, but also influence school-day attendance, even when most don’t appear to make it an intentional goal. The programs accomplish this by:
- Providing socialization and peer attention in a supervised venue;
- Re-establishing the link between effort and results—first in a non-school activity;
- Engaging students in challenging activities that help them develop persistence, a trait critical to later success in school and life;
- Providing consistent contact with caring, stable adults;
- Increasing the sense of belonging at school.
Partnership for Youth, a collaborative of youth serving agencies working with youth in southwest Detroit, has begun the process of engaging five schools (traditional public schools and charter schools) in the southwest Detroit neighborhood in of establishing systems of youth development that serve to intentionally:
- Improve academic achievement in participating students
- Increase social/emotional (non-cognitive/21st century/soft skills) skills of participating students and school staff
- Decrease chronic absenteeism of participating students.
Partnership for Youth has reviewed the examples of Providence, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other urban cities across the country to learn how they created robust, coordinated systems of youth development that reaches thousands of youth a year. These systems have shared missions and visions for their work; systems of support for the program providers that include professional development for youth workers; and consistent funding streams that promote innovative programs that do not sacrifice quality of programming in order to increase numbers of youth being served. With everyone doing their part, the goal of building the skills youth need to succeed is being realized.
In partnership with the Detroit Youth Development Resource Center, Partnership for Youth will implement the following supports through this project: 1) professional development for youth workers and school staff focusing on positive youth development practices that promote social and emotional skill building of participating students, 2) grant funds to increase the amount of high quality youth development programs available at certain schools within the cohort, and 3) implementation of the continuous learning model of youth programming, which includes external assessments and quality coaching geared at improving overall program quality.
Outcomes for youth improve when the practices employed by caring adults are based on positive youth development best practices. In other words, one youth plus one high quality youth development program equals an improved probability for success for that youth. Partnership for Youth realizes the importance of this integration of academics and quality youth development programs that build 21st century skills youth need to successfully graduate high school prepared to conquer the next stages of their lives.