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Improve systems and settings

- by increasing their quality, coordination and reach
September 2, 2011

Healthy behavior, staying in school, problem-solving skills – these are among the outcomes we all want to see in our young people. It is always encouraging to be able to point to a new mentoring initiative, a great after-school program or a really innovative school, but to achieve community- and state-wide impact, you need to do something bigger. You need to make high-quality interactions between young people and adults routine.


How? By improving entire systems across the variety of settings where children and youth spend their time. Approaching quality improvement from a community-wide perspective helps to ensure that the good work done in one corner of a community – such as a school, afterschool program or gymnasium – is complemented by work done elsewhere in the community.

Here are resources that address common questions:

How do we improve program quality?

We know that program quality is measurable and malleable. The Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA) is one tool to assess and improve settings where young people have fun, work and learn with adults. The tool is administered by the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, a division of the Forum for Youth Investment. The Youth Program Quality Intervention Technical Assistance Brief outlines the process for taking action to improve program quality in your city, county or state. See the YPQA sample assessment for school-age children to better understand what factors influence program quality and what the YPQA measures.

Show us some places that have improved quality and coordination.

In this webinar, Improving Systems and Settings: Quality Improvement in Asheville, hear Gina Gallo of the United Way of Asheville Buncombe County describe the quality improvement work in her area and its value to local youth providers. She shares how quality improvement has been a springboard for efforts that stakeholders hadn't even planned, including coodination and access.

Through the Forum’s Quality Counts initiative, seven communities and five states took on the challenge of building out-of-school time systems devoted to higher quality. The communities focused on improving program quality and workforce skills, increasing information available about the out-of-school time sector and supporting leaders in making quality improvement a priority. Read the results in Making Quality Count: Lessons Learned from the Ready by 21 Quality Counts Initiative.

Any parent will tell you this: Over the past 50 years, the transition to adulthood has grown longer, more complex and less orderly. That increases the need to improve supports not only for adolescents, but for older youth making that transition. This issue brief, Credentialed by 26 Series: High Expectations & Strong Supports Yield Postsecondary Success, shows how leaders from YouthBuild Brockton, Massaoit Community College and the Institute for Higher Education Policy are taking on that challenge. They’re broadening their thinking beyond high school to implement systemic improvements that help teenagers become successful adults.

Studies show that students who work more than 20 hours a week often have lower grades, are less likely to graduate, take more time to complete their degrees and have more mental health problems. However, research also shows that for many students, a positive work experience can facilitate rather than derail academic achievement. The brief, When Working Works: Employment and Postsecondary Success, discusses how to improve these opportunities so that working young people can achieve more in school. It provides on-the-ground examples.

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