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Congratulations on Your Engagement

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A recent study entitled A Report on the 2007 and 2008 High School Survey of Student Engagement provides some distressing news about the state of American high schools, alongside interesting grist for youth workers’ planning mills. First the headlines:

Minding Our Peas and Cukes

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Several years ago, when foundations and policymakers discovered the obesity crisis in our country – seemingly overnight – I thought we were witnessing just another fad. I mean, hadn’t we all been aware for quite a while that a lot of people were overweight? So why the sudden alarm bells over what seemed like the status quo?

But recent research has confirmed the need for those alarm bells, and youth workers should be among the first responders.

Aching for Adults

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At a recent dropout prevention conference in New York state, a panel of five teenagers shared their ideas about what it would take to help all students succeed in school. One of these young people stands out most dramatically in my mind, mainly because of the juxtaposition between how he appeared and what he said.

What Youth Programs Teach

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At a recent session of a youth development program, during a Mad Libs activity that served as an icebreaker, one of the simple warm-up questions generated a disturbing response. Young people were asked to name a course they take in school. After a couple of usual answers (“math,” “social studies”), someone shouted, “test prep.” All of the kids agreed that this was indeed a course at their schools.

Competence is Cool

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Interest in after-school programs for high schoolers is growing around the country, and in many quarters. Several recent national conferences have focused on the topic, as have a number of reports. While there are several reasons for this emerging attention, the single biggest factor is probably our nation’s collective, dismal record on high school graduation.

That record includes the following statistics:

Let’s Stress the Fun in Fundamental

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Everyone knows that reading is fundamental; we even have a national organization by that name. Yet a recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts, “To Read or Not to Read,” makes the case in no uncertain terms that we are quickly becoming a nation of non-readers.

While this study points to negative trends among older readers, it calls particular attention to adolescent literacy:

Not Déjà Vu All Over Again

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A smart person once observed that opportunity resides at the intersection of need and capacity. I thought of this adage recently as I read two seemingly disparate documents: a report prepared by the Next Generation Youth Work Coalition focusing on current work force challenges in the youth development field (“Growing the Next Generation of Youth Professionals: Workforce Opportunities and Challenges”), and a new book by Marc Freedman titled Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life.

Director of Drew Hamilton Recognized as Outstanding Youth Development Professional

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Casper Lassiter, Director of the Drew Hamilton Learning Center, has been honored by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America with its prestigious A. Mangini Northeast Regional 2007 Outstanding Youth Development Professional Award.

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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.

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