Sam Piha, a veteran of the afterschool field and founder of Temescal Associates, recently developed a paper on intermediaries for Putnam Consulting Group and The Cleveland Foundation. Sam interviewed me by email about the important role that intermediaries play in collective impact efforts. It’s a conversation worth sharing. Stay tuned as we roll out the rest of the conversation in the coming days.
I recently had the opportunity to spend an hour with a group of 9th grade boys from a Washington, D.C., charter school who were finishing up a research project on why students leave school and what can be done to address the issue. Though they had come to tap my brain on whether there were any research studies to back up their observations and any promising strategies for addressing the issues they flagged, I decided to flip the tables.
Nicole Yohalem and I started out in this field nearly two decades ago as youth workers who cared deeply about helping young people develop skills that mattered. Working in separate programs (later becoming colleagues at the Forum for Youth Investment), we knew in our hearts that the work done by our nonprofits helped young people gain practical, real-world skills, such as collaboration, communication, perseverance and decision-making. We tried our best to come up with proof to back that belief – but we lacked tools sophisticated enough to make the connections.
What image comes to mind if I ask you to imagine students learning? Young people in small groups focusing on projects they designed? Or slouching at their desks in class, looking bored?
Sadly, the second image is more common. Each year, almost half a million 5th through 12th graders complete the Gallup Student Poll. In recent years, more than four in 10 reported that they were either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" with school. The percent who are engaged decreases steadily from 5th to 10th grades. The longer kids stay in school, the more they tune out .
What happens when you give youth an opportunity? It all depends on the kind of opportunity.
There are programs all over the country focused on helping disconnected youth get real-life training on the job, in addition to critical soft skills. These programs are providing the key. Some are run nationally with local chapters, while others are born and grounded locally by community members who are masters at identifying the kinds of opportunities these youth need in order to unlock their passion, drive and success.