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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:

Alice In Wonderland - Spring 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008 - Saturday, May 17, 2008

An outrageous Pop-Up adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic. Imagine Alice, 7 years old, born and raised in today’s Greenwich Village, New York City. From the moment she wakes up until she rests her weary head, her parents over schedule and manage her day. With Architecture, Piano, Book Club, French and Ballet classes overwhelming her, Alice has forgotten what it is like to be a child and simply play. Will her journey through Wonderland help her reclaim her childhood or is Alice destined to become an adult way before her time?

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.

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.”

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