Monday, December 14, 2015

What Do We Need to be Thinking About: Helping Urban Youth

Last week I posted an article with the question "What are all the things we need to be doing to assure that  youth born or living in poverty are starting jobs and careers by age 25?"  My goal in this and other blog articles is to stimulate this thinking in thousands of places. 

I named the middle panel on this graphic "the Edison affect". That means there is no silver bullet, or single way, to help kids grow up.  Every parent starts from scratch, once their first child is born.  Every school and non-school organization is working with kids who are all different and constantly changing. Volunteer-based organizations also need to know how to engage and influence the talents of volunteers....who also are all different and constantly changing.

We're all constantly learning and innovating. We do better the longer we stay involved, and the more we learn from the collected experiences of others.  

I've aggregated a large number of articles that show how poverty and place influence how kids grow up. These are recommended reading to anyone doing research on this "what do we need to know" question.   

Here's another article, that I found last week, titled "The Keys to Helping Youth in Poverty Thrive, written by Wendy Foster is the president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay."

That middle panel also includes a map, showing high poverty concentrations in Chicago. Since my question focuses on helping kids "born or living in poverty" then some of the questions we need to be asking are "how do we fill all of these neighborhoods with age-appropriate learning, mentoring and tutoring programs?"

When I started the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 my goal was to identify as many of the existing non-school tutor/mentor programs as I could find in the Chicago region, then find ways to draw more attention to those programs on a daily basis, in order to help each program attract the volunteers, talent, ideas and dollars each needs to build and sustain strong organizations helping kids grow up. Here's my list of Chicago programs.

In this Logic Model graphic (see presentation) I talk about the challenges of helping youth and volunteers from diverse business and work backgrounds connect on a regular basis in cities as large as Chicago.

One of the challenges we face is that people in smaller cities don't experience the problem the same way it presents itself in big cities. Thus, understanding of the problem, and solutions, will be different. 

For mentoring to have an impact volunteers need to connect regularly for multiple years.  For this to happen in many neighborhood programs need to operate in a time frame where workplace volunteers are able to participate regularly. That means creating programs that operate in the time frame right after work or on weekends.

I feel that many of the local and national leaders focus primarily on the act of mentoring or tutoring, or ways that the volunteer can have a growing influence on the learning and behavior habits of a young person.

I focus on what it takes to make strong programs available  in all high poverty neighborhoods. Without strong, on-going programs too few volunteers will connect, or stay connected with the many youth who need such support systems.  

This graphic focuses on the infrastructure needed at every single organization who provides long-term connections. 

The presentation below includes charts that illustrate the talent needed in big and small businesses and in non profit organizations that need to sustain and constantly improve their impact over many years.

So, the questions I'm  hoping a growing number of people will begin asking focuses on how communities can support the growth of strong youth serving organizations in multiple locations, when the public will, and funding, are currently inadequate to pay for such organizations spread throughout all  high poverty areas of big cities and rural areas of the country.

I don't have the answer. What I do propose is that we constantly seek those who are searching for such answers, or who seem to be doing a little bit better than others.  Encourage them to share what they do on their web sites, and how they do it, then put links to their sites in web libraries like the one I've been building (click here).

Here's a presentation that shows how information we collect might stimulate the innovation and constant improvement others do to solve the same problem.

In response to last week's article some of the educators I've met in on-line cMOOCs have begun to look at this question.  Here's a twitter post by Kevin Hodgsin, a 6th grade teacher in Western Mass.

Here's a Tweet from Terry Elliott, an educator from Central Kentucky

Here's a blog article Terry wrote, pointing to the ideas I'm sharing on this blog. 

Finally, here's a Tweet by Betsey Merkel, who leads the I-Open group in Cleveland, Ohio.

I hope that over the holidays and throughout 2016 more people will begin to share their own thinking about this question and their solutions.

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