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The Quality Conundrum

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Conventional wisdom says the quality of youth work programs rests in no small measure on the quality of the program staff. But how do you achieve staff quality with the largely part-time, low-wage work force found in many youth service agencies?

While we labor over the long term to create more full-time positions and advocate a living wage for youth workers, we should consider some short-term strategies to increase staff quality.

Message in a Bottle

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Sometimes you have to cross the ocean to get a clearer picture of what is happening in your own country.

I just returned from England, where I and some colleagues and trustees from The Children’s Aid Society got to study that country’s services for children during an era of exciting reform. These changes offer many important lessons at a key moment in our own history, as we struggle, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to understand how so many American children and families have been left behind.

A Tale of Two Studies

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The recently released final report on Mathematica’s study of after-school programs (“When Schools Stay Open Late: The National Evaluation of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program”) drew considerably less attention than did its initial report two years earlier, perhaps because it drew essentially the same conclusion: Weak programs produce weak results.

Youth Work’s Unexpected Allies

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A recent issue of Education Week carried a front-page photograph of a studious octogenarian and urged readers to turn to an inside page, where they found a box with large type that said, “A lifetime of research has led Edmund W. Gordon to the conviction that it is the out-of-school extras that nurture children’s intellect.”

Risky Business

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The recent report entitled “Reading at Risk” revealed that, for the first time in modern history, less than half of the adult population of the United States reads literature – a trend that reflects a decline in other sorts of reading as well. The study, by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), pointed out that these trends don’t merely signify lower profits for Amazon.com.

Common Cents

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The first time I visited Portland, Ore., some 12 years ago, I knew it was a cutting-edge kind of place. On the airport bus going into the city, I spotted an establishment called Motor Mocha – a drive-through espresso bar. Bear in mind that this was years before every street corner in America sported a Starbucks. I realized immediately that ingenuity was flourishing in the Pacific Northwest.

Random Assignment

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I have just finished reading a new book about young people that should be required reading for youth workers, teachers and, most especially, policy-makers. Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx, chronicles the fast-paced and heart-wrenching stories of a group of children and youth from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Journalist Adrian Nicole LeBlanc spent the better part of a decade in their South Bronx neighborhood, seeking to understand their joys and struggles.

A Winning Formula For Staff Effectiveness

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As youth work practitioners, most of us have long believed that effective programs depend in large measure on the availability of competent, caring staff.

Applied Economics

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When I enrolled in a graduate school of social work many years ago, I found myself to be a distinct outsider – the only person in my class of 200 who had majored in economics as an undergraduate. While I’d been studying macroeconomics in my senior year, my fellow students had been learning about human development as psychology majors, or about social problems as sociology majors.

Summertime: Is the Living Too Easy?

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Many of the young people that youth agencies serve are about to lose a lot of what they’ve spent the past nine months learning. Research indicates that all young people experience significant learning losses during the summer break from school, and that the magnitude of these declines varies by grade level, subject matter and family income.

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