Circle oif People
Frankford Consulting - Helping organizations help young people build bridges to successful lives
 
 
 
Commentary

Sustaining School-Community Youth Development Initiatives

Learning involves all the domains of human development. Because cognitive, emotional, and social capabilities are inextricably intertwined, schools can't do the work alone--they need community partners ("it takes a village...").

In Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People: Progress and Possibilities (2009), the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported findings that affirm the role school-community partnerships can play in promoting youth development, including:

  • Taking a developmental perspective—recognizing that long-term, systemic interventions make an impact
  • Offering universal interventions, that is, interventions for all students, which are broadly effective, particularly among those with most problems

Developmental, universal prevention-oriented youth development programs can deliver benefits only if they are able to sustain their activities over time. However, all too often, such programs begin as demonstration or pilot projects and end as program “fragments” or in the “pilot graveyard” once the initial funding is gone.

What can be done to improve their longevity?

Partner Build Grow,a new web-based action guide, suggests a strategy for sustainability. The Guide offers school administrators and their community partners a four-pronged sustainability strategy:

  • staying current on major federal and state policy issues,
  • building on assets,
  • promoting relationships, and
  • emphasizing communications.

These four prongs primarily focus on state government, where most regulations and financing mechanisms are devised. While the federal government has a major impact, state governments make the important operating decisions, for example, in setting education priorities or using mental health funds. Because state priorities have a big impact on the sustainability of school-community interventions, it’s important for practitioners to have input on state priorities and suggest how youth development can fit into them.

The first step in building on assets is mapping them. In identifying what already exists, asset-mapping is a positive approach that connects and builds relationships among inter-related organizations. Such maps can show advocates and policymakers how additional or reconfigured resources will build on an existing foundation of cooperating organizations. Experience suggests that this approach is far more productive than the traditional one of specifying unmet needs, as one organization’s list of unmet needs competes with others’ equally worthy claims.

Policy change takes place through school-community stakeholders creating trusting relationships with state legislative and executive branch leaders and strategically using communications to facilitate shifts in perspective and action. In this way, school-community partnerships can become part of solutions, not pose problems.

Stay tuned to these pages for more discussion on strategies for building school and community programs for youth development.

August 3, 2015