In mid-December, D2 Center co-director Greg Emmel, YAN Alberto Gonzales, Jerry Bexten from The Sherwood Foundation and I attended the annual Dropout Re-engagement Network meeting, the “Re-engagement Plus Convening,” in Los Angeles. This is the third such conference Greg and I have attended, and the number of attendees has grown every year – this time there were about 150 attendees.
Sponsored by the National League of Cities, National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC) and Zero Dropouts, we heard leaders describe their impressive efforts in L.A. and participated in multiple discussion groups, on topics from local policy and accountability to credit recovery and higher risk populations.
It was an excellent conference. Here are some of our impressions from the convening.
Greg: I really enjoyed a tour of the Watts area of Los Angeles and visiting a YO! Center in Watts. We had the opportunity to speak with youth who are attending the Center which combines a charter school, a federal program, and staff from the Los Angeles Unified School District to help students earn a GED or a high school diploma and to get other needed services and assistance. The youth had compelling stories of how they were helped by the YO! Staff.
Beto’s Top 5
- Being able to dialogue with different people from all over the United States about the work we’re doing.
- The technical college in L.A. that allows enrollment without a high school diploma or GED, and still trains people to better their futures — something Nebraska should look into.
- Learning about free programs for men & women who are incarcerated.
- Site visit to one of the wellness programs they have for their kids in 15 different locations.
- Los Angeles is doing so much for their kids who have dropped out. Kudos to L.A. for doing what they do. The D2 Center in Omaha is on the way to doing what they do, and seeing their efforts reinforced the work that we’re doing here.
I found the Network meeting useful. The number of participants from a variety of communities indicates reengagement centers and reengagement strategies have gained significant traction. The discussion sessions did not always yield the answers I had hoped to hear. Everyone is struggling with the issues we face in Omaha. Each city, including Omaha, is devising and experimenting with potential solutions. Getting the members of the Network together annually helps us learn what others have tried and are considering as well as what’s working and what’s not working. In addition, valuable contacts are made and renewed that help advance the knowledge and expertise of everyone in the Network.
Carolyn’s Top 5
- I was really inspired by speaker Debra Duardo from Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). She dropped out of high school herself, became a teen parent, and now has her PhD and runs Student Health and Human Services at LAUSD. She has been there herself and is now helping students – as she put it, “working with a population that most have given up on.”
- Re-engagement needs to be combined with economic development and workforce development ; “A high school diploma is not enough anymore” – Robert Sainz, City of Los Angeles
- Outreach can be creative and varied. I heard from re-engagement staff reaching out to dropouts through barber and beauty shops, police, fitness centers, and movie theaters, on top of the more common radio and television ads.
- During a site visit to Los Angeles Trade Technical College CRCD Academy, I saw dual enrollment in action, with high school students learning construction skills from college instructors using the same classrooms, equipment and materials that LATTC students use. For high school credits, students are enrolled in small classes on the LATTC campus.
- To echo Beto and Jerry above, as always, I enjoy meeting with people from across the country who are doing similar work to the D2 Center. We learn new things from each other and also see that what we’re doing here in Omaha is on the right track.
We’re already looking forward to next year, and to hosting here in Omaha someday!