Building a Framework to Help Young People Stay on Track for Career Success

Posted February 18, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

High school graduate greets a family member

Photo credit: Jason E. Miczek for the Casey Foundation

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion has teamed up with Johns Hop­kins University’s Every­one Grad­u­ates Cen­ter and com­mu­ni­ty part­ners in two states to design and imple­ment a new frame­work to sup­port youth in fin­ish­ing their edu­ca­tion and launch­ing careers.

The frame­work, called On Track to Career Suc­cess (OTCS), will uti­lize two strate­gies at once: 1) extend­ing a proven prac­tice for help­ing ninth graders grad­u­ate high school on time; and 2) offer­ing work­place learn­ing expe­ri­ences that can help all stu­dents bet­ter pre­pare for post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion and career success.

Dur­ing the mul­ti-year project, par­tic­i­pat­ing schools and com­mu­ni­ty part­ners will:

  • strength­en school process­es to keep all stu­dents on track to grad­u­ate high school;
  • ana­lyze rel­e­vant data to uncov­er gaps, exam­ine root caus­es of under­ly­ing issues and plan ways to address challenges;
  • design rel­e­vant, cul­tur­al­ly respon­sive and devel­op­men­tal­ly appro­pri­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for all stu­dents to learn in mean­ing­ful ways via work experiences;
  • iden­ti­fy, con­nect and devel­op post­sec­ondary train­ing and edu­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties; and
  • employ evi­dence-based pro­grams and prac­tices to sup­port stu­dents who need it.

OTCS is an exam­ple of the Casey Foundation’s Thrive by 25 efforts, which aim to improve the well-being and prospects of young adults ages 1424.

High school grad­u­a­tion is an impor­tant mile­stone for young peo­ple and their eco­nom­ic prospects,” says Patrice Cromwell, vice pres­i­dent of Casey’s Cen­ter for Eco­nom­ic Oppor­tu­ni­ty. But a high school diplo­ma is a first step toward col­lege and career. OTCS seeks to ensure that young peo­ple are sup­port­ed by schools and com­mu­ni­ty part­ners to have the expe­ri­ences that even­tu­al­ly lead to careers and finan­cial stability.”

Strate­gies in Action

The project launch is set for two loca­tions — New Orleans, Louisiana, and Albu­querque, New Mex­i­co — at schools that serve many stu­dents of col­or and low-income families.

To start, teacher teams will estab­lish mile­stones that can be used to help iden­ti­fy ninth graders who are on track to grad­u­ate. Fac­tors under con­sid­er­a­tion will include a student’s tran­si­tion from eighth grade, atten­dance, social-emo­tion­al devel­op­ment and course grades.

The project will then grad­u­al­ly expand in scope to include stu­dents in grades 10 through 12. Teacher teams will again track mile­stones relat­ed to aca­d­e­m­ic progress and social-emo­tion­al skills as well as col­lege and career preparations.

We are try­ing to cre­ate this frame­work with the folks who do the work,” says Robert Bal­fanz, direc­tor of the Every­one Grad­u­ates Cen­ter. If teach­ers and oth­ers are not inti­mate­ly involved in the cre­ation of the work, it is not going to be sus­tained.” The team approach in every grade, he says, brings a greater vari­ety of per­spec­tives to the ques­tion of whether stu­dents are being sup­port­ed. Teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors are respon­si­ble for their grade-lev­el mile­stones, as opposed to just a guid­ance coun­selor who is sup­posed to track every­thing for every kid,” he says.

Beyond prompt­ing greater col­lab­o­ra­tion with­in schools, the frame­work will also help to con­nect stu­dents in grades 10 through 12 with mean­ing­ful career readi­ness and ear­ly work expe­ri­ences. To achieve this, OTCS will posi­tion high schools as com­mu­ni­ty cen­ters and engines for local eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment. The frame­work calls for schools to devel­op mod­els of how adding a grade 13 or 14 could help stu­dents earn an asso­ciate degree or train­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in addi­tion to a high school diploma.

The com­mu­ni­ty part­ners that will imple­ment OTCS are an inten­tion­al­ly diverse group. They are high schools as well as orga­ni­za­tions that man­age char­ter schools, com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions, work­force devel­op­ment orga­ni­za­tions, post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion insti­tu­tions and more. They also include youth rep­re­sen­ta­tives, who will share their thoughts on life as a stu­dent and what today’s young peo­ple need to real­ize their goals.

Stay­ing the Course Dur­ing COVID-19

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has dis­rupt­ed the edu­ca­tion of young peo­ple in sig­nif­i­cant ways. Across the nation, stu­dents are still fac­ing hur­dles — includ­ing tech­nol­o­gy divides — that can slow or stop their aca­d­e­m­ic progress. These fac­tors under­score the impor­tance of devel­op­ing an approach like OTCS to help young peo­ple stay on track.

More than ever,” says Ilene Berman, a senior asso­ciate with the Casey Foundation’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group, schools and their com­mu­ni­ty part­ners need to track and sup­port stu­dent con­nec­tion and engage­ment and be part of the solu­tion to ensure young peo­ple have a plan for suc­cess dur­ing and after high school.”

Read Casey’s Thrive by 25 announcement 

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