Innovative Partnerships: Accessibility to Better Serve Youth

By Michelle Cheang, Director of YouthSource & Education Department, Youth Policy Institute, Los Angeles, CA

The Youth Policy Institute (YPI) provides education, training and technology services to empower Los Angeles families.  YPI provides services at over 125 program sites throughout the city and offers individuals a number of resources for their families.  Services provided by YPI include: afterschool programs, charter and pilot schools, job training, summer jobs for youth, physical education, adult education, computer literacy, holistic family services, case management, parenting classes, high school tutoring, and college preparation. Each year, YPI helps more than 100,000 youth and adults through these programs.

YPI is specifically proud of its youth programs offered at the YouthSource Centers.  The YouthSource Centers are funded by the City of Los Angeles to provide better services for out-of-school and unemployed youth.  A big piece of YPI’s work at its YouthCenters is to re-engage youth, assess their academic needs, and identify the next steps for these young individuals.  To do so successfully, YPI has solidified its partnerships with the City of Los Angeles Community Development Department, and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to place a full-time LAUSD Pupil Services and Attendance (PSA) Counselor at two YPI YouthSource Centers. This partnership has allowed for instant access to student records, thereby allowing students to enroll into educational pathways at a faster rate.  Meeting with a counselor to determine the best suited educational track is now possible in a matter of hours versus a matter of weeks and months.  And, recent GED attainments and enrollment into post-secondary educational institutions of individuals served by YouthSource testify to the success of these partnerships. 

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Re-engaging out-of-school youth begins by fully understanding why youth leave school. YPI’s approach addresses not only prior schooling and status, but also offers solutions to the current social, economic and psychological barriers youth face.  Meetings with an assigned case manager, on-site LAUSD PSA Counselor, College & Career Ambassador, and an academic instructor, all provide important insight into the past journey and struggles of the youth;  it gives a clear understanding of the educational and personal goals of each individual and how all staff at the Center can assist in their attainment.  Staff strives to make each interaction with youth meaningful, and relate back to their goals, celebrating each step towards the ultimate goal.  Staff are trained and encouraged to empower youth to reflect on past struggles and discussing what changes need to be made, both from the school and their educational track, in order to be successful.

YPI’s strategy provides a clear educational and career path to success with supportive services and financial incentives for completion.  A plan for a participant may include on-site GED class, financial assistance for the GED tests, tutoring, mentoring, paid internships, art class, spoken word and an active leadership role in community service-learning project.  Each plan of action is catered to the specific needs and experiences of the youth using a template provided by LAUSD that illustrates the educational track, credits, and exams needed for each youth, along with a service plan created by the youth and their case manager, that includes job-readiness workshops, financial literacy, and work experience.

[Graduation Checklist Template & LAUSD Educational Track Template]

For youth on the verge of dropping out of high school, the PSA Counselor meets with them to develop an educational plan to help them stay on track.  Access to youths’ academic records also provides the opportunity to establish truancy-diversion programs for youth who have displayed chronic truancy.  The PSA Counselor and YouthSource Center staff works closely with youth to create an intervention and supportive program that shifts the focus from punishing youth to resolving the problems, obstacles, and trauma that result in them frequently skipping school.  For the youth that have already disengaged from high school, the PSA counselor and YouthSource Center staff create Individualized Service Plans (ISPs) to ensure youth complete an academic program, vocational program, and/or obtain employment.  With the immediate support of a PSA counselor, YPI staff can best address and serve the needs of participants and ensure that they are on track to successfully completing a training program, locating employment, and/or gaining high school equivalence.

YPI and LAUSD are no longer working in silos, but rather joining efforts to support the success of youth.  The partnership has given direct access to data, but also list of recent dropouts in need of support that YPI can provide.  This past year, the YouthSource Center enrolled 321 youth, of which 221 were out of school youth.  Of these youth, over 140 youth completed a certificate or degree within a year.  The partnership between YPI and LAUSD is innovative and the success is apparent through recent attainments, which will continue to grow in the years to come.

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