Many urban areas in the United States are suffering from the effects of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. By any measure, our urban youth are at risk. Many become disconnected and disengaged in school, and when the traditional system stops working for them, they drop out. When the system fails these disconnected youth, leading them to drop out of high school, they are not the only ones to feel a long-lasting impact. A recent commissioned study by Andrew Sum estimates that, on average, every high school dropout in Connecticut costs the state more than $500,000 over his/her working lifetime. With only 79% of Connecticut’s students graduating from high school in four years, the detrimental economic impact of ignoring disconnected students is enormous. This impact is not only felt in the state of Connecticut, but nationally, as well. Sum’s report also estimates that each high school dropout across the nation costs the U.S. an average of $300,000 over his/her working lifetime.
At Our Piece of the Pie®, Inc. (OPP ®), we believe that with access and opportunity, all youth can succeed. With the mission to “help urban youth become successful adults,” OPP has successfully structured its programs and services to lead at-risk or disadvantaged youth, ages 14-24, toward the goals of achieving a college degree or vocational credentials and/or obtaining rewarding post-education employment. Through innovative methods, OPP seeks to re-engage disconnected youth and help them find a realistic “pathway to success.”
Pathways to Success is OPP’s signature program, and the cornerstone of our services. This youth development strategy offers a relationship-centered approach to help young people access and attain a mix of educational, employment, and personal skills that contribute to their success. There are two core elements of this strategy. First, each youth should have an individualized plan based on an understanding of their dreams and aspirations, allowing them to map out a realistic path from where they are to where they want to be. Second, every young person needs a caring, consistent adult in their lives who can advise them along their journey. At OPP, this is a Youth Development Specialist (YDS). On a practical level, the YDS is the guide to the services we offer young people. A YDS helps each OPP youth to create an individualized plan based on their own goals, incorporating the education and employment services that we have to offer. However, on a less tangible level, the YDS is the one who builds a trusting relationship with the youth, convincing them to stay on track and pursue their dreams.
Based on the situation and need, OPP offers the following programs and services that assist with the youth’s journey along his or her pathway:
OPP has begun to work its Pathways to Success program within school systems. In our most recent venture, OPP has opened a partnership high school in Connecticut with Hartford Public Schools. Opportunity High School (OHS) is designed to serve 200 students who, upon entry, do not have the appropriate number of credits for their age and intended grade (i.e. in 9th grade for the second time or 17 years old, but only in 10th grade) – what we call over-age, under-credited (OU) youth. The school recognizes that the traditional high school model may not work for many youth, and reaches out to offer these young people another option.
OHS looks to re-engage disconnected youth by infusing the youth development principles of OPP’s Pathways program into the school’s academically rigorous culture. The school recognizes that providing individualized attention, intensive support services and college/career preparation will help these students to reduce the barriers that they face every day, and put them on the path to academic and employment success. In June 2011, 41 previously over-age, under-credited students graduated from OHS; the first graduating class of many.