Last week, co-director Greg Emmel and I were in Dubuque, IA, for the fifth annual National League of Cities Reengagement Plus! Convening. This year’s host, Reengage Dubuque, is a partnership between the Dubuque Community School District, Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC), and Project HOPE (through the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque). We got to see these reengagement efforts in action through site visits (Dubuque Senior High School, Hempstead High School, Alternative Learning Center, and Reengage Dubuque at NICC), presentations, and discussions. Dubuque provides an excellent example of partnerships making a real impact. Best of all we got to hear from several students themselves about how Reengage Dubuque has helped them make positive changes in their lives.
The convening also offered many opportunities for organizations across the U.S. to learn from each other on topics including alternative education options, mental health, juvenile justice, data collection and sharing, post-secondary and career paths, and funding ( <– not a complete list by any means!).
Just a couple of key reminders / takeaways for me (again, there were many more not listed here):
— Reengagement builds community vitality!
— The zip code where a person is born should not determine their level of success in life
— How will we help address economic and racial inequity?
— Two questions that often have a different set of answers: “Why did you leave school?” vs. “Why is it hard to go back?”
— Business leaders should be made aware of reengagement efforts so they can participate and help shape programs that will help them fill positions down the line
The Omaha community was well represented this year, and we spent time with attendees Dr. Shari Koch from Omaha Public Schools, Will Smith from Metropolitan Community College Gateway to College, Katy Young from Goodwill Partnership for Youth, and Shelley Henderson from For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST).
Once again we saw old friends and colleagues from the first conference we attended in Boston way back in 2011 when all attendees could fit in one conference room. The convening now draws hundreds of participants every year, as communities across the U.S. realize the lost potential of disengaged youth and how opportunities can help these youth get back on track towards future success in school and career. Successful students ultimately strengthen our communities and families, and reengagement pays off in even more success for future generations. See you next year, NLC!