Learning Tour: Midwestern Strategies for Reengaging Off-Track Youth

In 2014, Raise DC was awarded a grant from Lumina Foundation to participate in the Community Partnership for Attainment, a multi-year initiative designed to increase higher education attainment in communities across the country. Lumina’s community engagement work relies on cross-sector, collaborative efforts to increase the number of Americans with high-quality degrees or credentials nationwide.

Raise DC convened its local Community Partnership for Postsecondary Attainment (CPPA) in early 2015. Comprise of a network of seven innovative programs and schools, five postsecondary institutions, and a technical team from FHI 360, CPPA focuses on youth (ages 16-24) who have not succeeded in a traditional school setting and seeks to significantly improve college preparation, transition, enrollment, and completion. As a part of this work, CPPA fortifies relationships between schools and the providers that offer non-traditional pathways to graduation and postsecondary success for previously disengaged students.

Committed to fostering continuous improvement amongst partners--and as a grantee of Raise DC’s Learning Tours opportunity—CPPA members attended the National League of Cities’ Reengagement Plus conference in Dubuque, Iowa, earlier this year. The annual convening focuses on students who have fallen off track and left school before graduating. Dubuque, a leader in the reengagement landscape, provides learning opportunities for practitioners from cities across the country to implement best practices in their communities. CPPA team members (including representatives from The Next Step Public Charter School, Academy of Hope Public Charter School, Latin American Youth Center, So Others Might Eat – Center for Employment Training, and FHI 360) attended the conference to integrate new ideas into their work in the District.

Conference sessions included: “Leveraging Community Colleges as Full Partners for Reengagement”, “Meaningful Metrics at the School Level: Developing and Collecting Data that Matters”, and “Rules of Reengagement: Building Relationships with At-Risk Youth.”

Patrice Williams, CPPA Member & Educational Consultant at FHI 360, shares what she learned from Reengagement Plus:

CPPA members attended the Reengagement Plus conference with the intent to network and learn what colleagues across the nation are doing to support disconnected youth in achieving academic success. The host city is home to Re-engage Dubuque, a partnership between the Dubuque Community School District, Northeast Iowa Community College, and Project HOPE, a citywide initiative designed to dissolve disparity and ensure equity in employment and economic opportunities. Re-engage Dubuque aims to connect students who have recently dropped out of school to alternative educational options and postsecondary opportunities. Dubuque, a small Midwestern city with approximately 60,000 residents and a history of generational poverty, still boasts an unemployment rate below 5% and a 91% percent graduation rate.

One may wonder what kind of correlation Dubuque would have with a major city like Washington, DC. Despite the differences in size and obvious distinctions between the District and an Iowa town, CPPA members took note of the site’s successful model and how it could translate to their home organizations in DC. Dubuque stands out because of its strong community support, local collaborations, and “whatever-it-takes” attitude. The core of the program consists of reengagement coaches who physically meet youth where they are and work to remove the barriers that kept them from graduating in the first place, giving students a strong shot at a second chance. From its inception, Re-engage Dubuque formed a partnership with the local community college and public school system, as well as garnered full mayoral support from the city. In addition to what CPPA members learned about Dubuque’s impressive model, the conference allowed them to connect with other partners, such as DC’s own ReEngagement Center and Boston’s Private Industry Council (PIC), who are also doing similar revolutionary work in supporting disconnected youth.

Back at home, CPPA members are continuing their work to create a strong network across participating provider sites to support District youth. Outside of the seven community based organizations, CPPA has also added three DC area community colleges as regular members to the working group. One of the biggest takeaways from our visit to Dubuque was how integral the partnerships among community-based organizations, community colleges, and the state were to the success of young students. Including higher education institutions at the CPPA table and sharing common goals has made it possible to implement necessary initiatives such as dual enrollment programs and to explore strategies and practices that lead to improved postsecondary readiness, transition, and attainment in the District.