Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Helping Youth Through School - Requires Long Term Thinking

This is a graphic that I've used often over the past 20 years to show that the outcomes we all want for kids requires work done at the bottom of this pyramid.  You can find this graphic in this PDF.

Below I've created some images that focus in on different elements of this graphic.  The ideas apply in building systems of support for inner city youth, and for solving any other complex problem.

At the bottom of the pyramid is the knowledge that we draw upon to propose solutions to problems.   While we each have our own personal experiences, and some have studied an issue for their entire lives, most don't have a broad reference base that they draw upon to support where and how they get involved.  Building a knowledge base that supports the decisions of others who need to be involved in solutions to problems is an essential first step. Keeping this up-to-date is an on-going challenge.

I've been building a web library and directory of non-school tutor and mentor programs since the early 1990s. Initially I did this to support youth, volunteers and leaders in the tutor/mentor programs I was leading in Chicago. As I formed the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 I began to share this information more consistently with others throughout Chicago.  The knowledge collection role is Step 1 of the 4-part strategy I've led since 1993.  Read more about what I've been trying to do in this Tutor/Mentor Learning Network article.

Competing for attention.  Drawing users to library.  Building and sustaining a library of information and ideas is one thing.  Creating daily advertising and public education that draws a growing number of learners and users to the information is a very different challenge.

Most youth serving organizations don't have powerful marketing teams working to draw attention and resources to them on an on-going basis. Innovating ways that more people take roles in building public awareness and draw viewers to information in the library has been a priority of the T/MC since it was formed. This is Step 2 of the 4-part strategy.

I find too few conversations that focus on this step.  With the Internet we have a growing "Crisis of Attention", which is described in  this article.

I keep looking for conversations where people are thinking about challenges of competing for people's attention in an environment where so many others have far more resources.  I've written many articles focused on "creating attention". Take time to read through them.


Building the network. Part of my web library focuses on "who needs to be involved" which includes a directory of non-school tutor and mentor programs in Chicago and around the country and a data base and collection of more than 2000 links that point to others who are involved in some way in efforts to help kids move through school and into jobs and careers.

Getting representatives of these organizations and resource providers together to learn, share, build relationships and innovate shared solutions to problems is what I focus on in this stage of the pyramid.  Unless people in business, philanthropy, faith groups, media, politics, etc. are coming together on an on-going basis, for face-to-face and on-line learning it will be difficult to create and sustain collaborations that help build and sustain high quality youth supports.

In this blog article I show that a "village" of people with different talents and networks needs to be involved helping every tutor/mentor program grow, as well as helping many programs grow in specific neighborhoods and entire cities.    This is part of Step 3 in the four-part strategy.

These first three steps need to be happening on an on-going basis, reaching people throughout Chicago, Illinois and the world. However, they are just the start.

Better information, read and understood by more people, creates a better understanding of what types of youth support programs have the best chance of having a positive impact on youth and volunteers. Better information also helps people understand the challenges involved, which are many.

This needs to lead to actions that support programs in more places. If more of the stakeholders, including resource providers, are looking at this information, they can develop a set of actions that generate a flow of on-going resources (talent, dollars, ideas, technology, etc) into every high poverty neighborhood, to every tutor and mentor program operating in those neighborhoods.

I think this is the weakest link in this process. Most programs compete with others for scarce resources. Most foundations use requests-for-proposals and competitive grants and competitions to decide who gets funded. There are only a few winners and many losers. Often prizes and grants are one-time gifts, not repeated from year-to-year.  No business could grow to be great on this type of funding stream. Yet, I see few leaders using maps to show a need to draw resources to all poverty neighborhoods, and to all of the organizations working in these areas.

However, if we could solve this problem....

A better flow of needed resources to youth serving organizations (Step 4 in 4-part strategy) leads to more and better programs serving k-12 youth in more of the places where they are needed.  I can't tell you how often people ask about "outcomes" without talking about the work needed to build well-organized, mentor-rich non-school programs.

This leads to the final graphic.

It can take several years for a business to become profitable, or for a youth-serving organization to build the team of staff, leaders, volunteers, parents and youth that makes it a "great" program.  However, that's only the start. If a youth enters a great program in first grade, or 7th grade, it will still take 12 years for the first grader and six years for the 7th grader, just to finish high school!  It will take four to six more years for that young person to move on into adult lives and roles, and to jobs and careers that enable him/her to raise their own kids outside of the negative influences of high poverty.

I used this birth-to-work arrow in many other articles, such as this one, which is a discussion of the costs involved in a program intended to create jobs for 32,000 young men in a few Chicago neighborhoods.

I created this 'race-poverty' concept map to illustrate the many other factors that influence life outcomes for kids born or living in high poverty areas.  A few days ago I read an article titled "Why do we keep insisting that education can solve poverty?"


Here's the challenge. As a nation we're not very good at keeping the focus (and flow of resources) on problems and solutions to the time it takes to actually begin to solve the problem.  While this 1993 Chicago SunTimes article includes a map, very few leaders in 2017 are using maps to emphasize all of the places where kids, families and schools need help to aid youth as the move through school and into adult lives. Read more about this.   Read this article about "building public will".
I started this article with this graphic, and pointing to this presentation on Slideshare.

Poverty is a complex problem, requiring many different types of resources in the same place at the same time.  If we want more youth to stay in school, be safe in non-school hours, graduate from high school and move on to jobs, careers and adult responsibilities, we need to do the work shown at the bottom of this pyramid.

In my own work I've never been able to get enough people together for an on-going basis, just to talk about ways we create and share the knowledge I've been collecting with more potential users.    If you're interested in taking a role please reach out to me.

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