On Track to Career Success, an initiative created with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, was implemented in schools and communities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Launched in 2020, the initiative is part of the Foundation’s Thrive by 25® efforts to support young adults ages 14 through 24.
The On Track to Career Success (OTCS) framework is an evidence-based model that aims to forge connections among secondary schools, postsecondary training and learning pathways and employers. Such connections can give high school students access to educational and workplace experiences and vital social-emotional support, as well as opportunities to build the skills and pathways needed to secure family-supporting wages.
This report, created by Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center, examines the challenges of implementing the OTCS framework during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Three-part Framework for Youth Success
The OTCS framework is designed to intimately involve teachers, students, and local partners in the work’s creation. It is built on three foundational elements:
Milestones, which help to identify a common set of experiences and preparations for all high school students.
Student Success Systems, which enable school teams to monitor student progress toward those milestones and identify where additional improvement or supports are needed.
Pathways to Career Success, which offer students viable options to transition from high school to post-secondary schooling and training in careers that provide family-supporting wages.
Program leaders gained five valuable takeaways related to implementing the OTCS framework during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are:
schools play a critical role in connecting students and staff;
prioritizing relationship building and people’s well-being is essential;
flexibility is key;
supporting productive partnerships is an ongoing process; and
the challenges caused by the pandemic sparked rich conversations and innovation.
Next Steps and Challenges
While the OTCS framework presents students and schools with a road map to post-academic success, challenges persist. Many students in OTCS schools struggle with attendance, social-emotional challenges and academic performance. At the same time, many schools are focused on responding to the needs of the moment rather than thinking strategically or building a vision for the future.
Over the next academic year, OTCS schools in New Mexico and Louisiana will evolve the initiative by installing, implementing, and measuring student success systems. This work will include using localized, grade-level milestones and partnering with student design teams to assess and improve the approach.
COVID-19 disrupted school connections, which affected the well-being of students and staff
Findings & Stats
The Impact of One Caring Adult
High school students who had an adult at school who knew and cared about them as a person during the pandemic — either in person or virtually — reported half the mental problems of students who did not report this connection. Yet, only half of all high school students and only a third of historically under-served students reported such a connection during the pandemic
Flexibility is Key
The pandemic underscored the need for schools and communities to innovate and adapt. For instance: When the pandemic forced schools to go virtual, many students at OTCS high schools took jobs to help support their families or were left caring for their younger siblings. As a result, they struggled to get their coursework done during the day. Their schools adapted by providing access to teachers or other adult support via e-mail and text during traditionally off hours.
A True Collaborative Effort
A range of partners are involved in imagining, implementing and sustaining the OTCS framework at a local site. These key partners include: Participating schools, youth at the member schools, community organizations, implementation partners and funders such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Statements & Quotations
Having input from teachers, counselors, and administrators, as well as students, families, and community members brings more diverse perspectives to program design.
Once young adults become disconnected from school or the labor market, it becomes challenging to reconnect them to educational or training opportunities.
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