Our Opportunity Links for Youth initiative is an effort to extend Linked Learning to reach out-of-school youth. I previously described Irvine’s intention and thinking behind the initiative’s design: exploring new collaborations among nonprofits, postsecondary institutions and employers that can reconnect out of school youth to college and career opportunities. I am pleased now to share an update about how our partners are moving forward.
From Planning to Implementation
In the first half of this year, the community based organizations in this initiative worked through an intensive planning process to design programs that will reconnect out of school youth to postsecondary education and work opportunities in the healthcare industry or digital media, arts and design fields. (Here’s a list of the Opportunity Links grantees.) These grantees received technical assistance from Jobs for the Future (JFF), an organization with expertise in education and workforce systems. Based on implementation plans created through this planning process, Irvine’s board approved new grants last week to support the launch of the programs as well as an on-going process for refinement of the program designs. All of the organizations will launch their programs by January 2013 with carefully identified out-of-school youth participants, and will work simultaneously to support those youth to complete the program while also recruiting new participants for subsequent program cycles.
Supporting Learning, Capturing Knowledge
Alongside the community-based organizations, Jobs for the Future will continue to provide technical assistance to the initiative. Through site visits and convening, as well as webinars and peer exchanges, JFF intends to help grantees learn from other practitioners, researchers and policy analysts who can highlight strategies for effective program implementation. The grantees and JFF will also give attention to continuous program enhancement, focusing on deepening partnerships with colleges and employers, and on adjusting program curricula based on assessments of how well youth acquire academic and job relevant skills. To capture knowledge generated by the organizations’ rapid creation and iteration of their programs, JFF will create case studies describing each program’s design and evolution, while also collecting basic outcome data across the set of programs.
Through the Opportunity Links for Youth initiative, Irvine’s partners are beginning to provide out-of-school youth with all four core elements of Linked Learning: challenging academics, technical knowledge, work-based learning and support services. While the initiative’s outcomes remain to be seen, I am hopeful that it will represent a valuable effort to raise up the unique role that community based organizations can play, in partnership with colleges and employers, to support this segment of California’s low-income youth in attaining postsecondary credentials and a family-sustaining career. I will continue to post updates here as this initiative unfolds.