Engaging Young Adult LearnersPresented By:Peter Kleinbard, Executive Director Youth Development Institute October 2008
What do we mean by engagement?
Active involvement, commitment, and concentrated attention, as opposed to superficial participation, apathy, or lack of interest.
Who are the young adult learners?16 24 years of age, have dropped out of school.
In New York City:15,000 drop out each year.170,000 between 16 and 24.
Why do they drop out?In a national survey of high school dropouts by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2006), young people said they left because of lack of motivation, boredom, falling too far behind to catch up, poor preparation at high school entry, too much freedom, not enough structure, becoming a parent themselves, having to get a job and make money, and having to care for a parent or sibling.
How do we re-engage them?Promising strategies to increase engagement offer young people:A welcoming environment in a community of support.Staff, structure, and consistent messages demonstrate that this is a place where adults care and where other young people are serious and friendly.Connect youth with caring adults and peers Encourage youth participation and voice Clarity about what they need to do now and a clear path to the future with explicit benchmarks for progress.Opportunities to assume roles of responsibility and leadership. Make the requirements for success clearEssential and meaningful content
Welcoming EnvironmentSafety is paramount. To engage fully, youngpeople must believe that:They can move about freely, without the threat of physical or verbal harm.They can express themselves freely, without fear of reprisal or destructive criticism.Bullying and teasing are not tolerated and prohibitions against weapons and fighting are strictly enforced.The space is pleasant and appropriate for serious work.Express a positive attitude and a warm reception from all staff including security guards, job developers, secretaries, teachers, and counselors. Support this with training, supervision, and explicit recognition that this is how we treat each other here.Our fundamental battle is not so much the lack of skills; its the lack of hope. Past school experiences beat most of these young people out of their dreams. They really do not believe they can accomplish anything. -Bushwick Community High School One of our most effective techniques is having current young people speak to incoming students. Their impact cant be overestimated. The new students keep saying, I heard all the teachers telling us how the program worked, but when the students said it, thats when I believed it. -Bushwick Community High School
Staff, structure, and consistent messages demonstrate that this is a place where adults care and where other young people are serious and friendly.Convey to new and potential students from the moment of first meeting that they are entering a culture designed for and with them.Let young people know that the environment might be very different from what they have experienced in the past, and that they can count on adults and peers to be there for them.Encourage interaction among adults and young people to greet each other in the halls and common spaces with smiles and interest, and discourage cliques.Make it easy for young people to talk to adult staff informally and formally.Lay down norms of acceptable behavior and clarify any infractions that will result in being removed from the program.Encourage the expectation of civil and tolerant behavior from adults and young people alike.
Connect youth with caring adults and peersSuccessful programs establish formal systems ofsupport and foster informal connections between adults and youth. They:Link every young person to at least one primary adult in a structured and personalized way.Team the primary person with the student to formulate goals, monitor progress, and address academic and personal issues.Allocate substantial time into the weekly schedule for these one-on-one relationships.
Encourage youth participation and voiceMeaningful roles and the power to make a difference can help young people develop a sense of efficacy and realize the power of their learning for helping others and transforming the world around them. A sense of ownership and control over the experience is especially important for older youth who have made a voluntary decision to return to school or to a program. Given the chance, older youth can make substantial contributions and offer insights that have positive effects on the wider community. They generally know what has and has not worked for them in the past, and they often have creative ideas to offer, but have never been asked.Youth voice is not just about us achieving the desired outcomes for young people. It's about creating a school community that young people want to come to, be involved in, and that they see is relevant towards helping them meet their own educational goals. -CUNY Prep High School
Clarity about the present,belief in the futureThe more that young people understand where they are going andHow to get there, the more likely they are to take the initiative and make the effort. From the initial contact, let young people know that they are expected to give their all. In turn, let them know that if they commit, they can succeed:
Start the engagement process the moment prospective participants enter the building.Use admissions interviews to convey to young people that they will be expected to be serious about their decision to return. Outline what they will get in return for their commitment.Involve parents, extended family, and friends in reinforcing the decision. Hold a reception for admitted participants and their parents, and have staff, current students, and graduates make presentations.
Make the requirements for success clearYoung people who know what they have to do in order to graduate can more readily assume their rightful roles as responsible adult learners. Demystify the requirements so students can spend their time engaging with the work at hand rather than figuring out the system:
Share with students and their families exactly what credits, tests, or attendance are necessary for them to secure their diploma or GED. Talk with students about a realistic timeline for accomplishing these requirements, and tell them about any time limits, such as age or length of time they can stay in the program.Young people often lack important information concerning graduation requirements. We want ouryoung people to understandwhat the expectations arefor graduation, feel a directconnection between oursupport and their needs, and recognize how theschool is set up to helpthem achieve thoserequirements. -South Brooklyn Community High School
Essential and meaningful content (page 1)Young people need to know that learning can be exciting and relevant to who they are and what they can become. They need to have positive experiences to counter past failures. They need to be convinced that what they are learning will prepare them to continue their education and get the skills they need for a satisfying job. The curriculum, activities, and teaching must be of high quality and perceived by young people as such.
Essential and meaningful content (page 2)The goal for all learners is that they acquire not only the essential knowledge but the motivation and tools to take charge of their learning. This is especially true for young adults. The content of the curriculum is more than subject matter: it includes strategies that can make them see its application to their lives.Our kids are coming to us with a sense that schools have failed them. They are remarkably interested in social justice. We build upon that interest during orientation by looking at the statistics of African Americans and Latino college enrollment. We also look at the earning potential by job title according to the U.S. Department of Labor. We let them know that they have a social responsibility to go to college and help build their communities. And we are clear that we aren't settling for less. We say very directly, This is a college prep program and this is where you should be heading in the name of uplifting your community. -CUNY Prep High School
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