Monthly Archives: September 2011

Pathways to Prosperity

I spent this weekend reading Harvard Graduate School of Education’s February 2011 report, Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century. I’m really getting into the issue of youth workforce development–because of my day-to-day work as the director of teen employment at DC Public Library, but also because so many things have begun to converge around the issue. Amongst them:

  • At the library we’re seeing a steadily increasing influx of job seekers of all ages, and we’re working towards a strategy to best meet the public’s need. We developed the Jobseekers portal on our website to assist, but we’re seeing the level of need is much higher and calls for more direct one-on-one coaching than a website can provide.
  • In late August, NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang (who volunteered at our teen radio program last year!) did a report on the staggaringly high rate of teen unemployment, which in some areas of DC is at 50%.
  • The Urban Alliance, a youth workforce development non-profit based in DC, recently issued a call to partner with organizations to bring their comprehensive package of workforce development workshops to teens, at no cost to the organizations. This is to try to meet the need in the out-of-school environment, since it’s not being met in school.
  • This summer, based on feedback from some of DCPL’s Teens of Distinction, the library piloted the “Shadow Your Future” program, whereby teens could shadow a professional for a half-day to see what a day-in-the-life of that career is like, and to learn the different paths to getting there. They said they had absolutely no clue “what’s out there”.

While my teens in the Educational Video Center’s 2002 Documentary Workshop identified the gap between what they learn in school and what connection it has to the “real world”, the critical need for integrating career exploration and preparation into school work hadn’t really crystalized for me. I know that I hated school (loved learning, though!) and didn’t see why I had to go everyday, when there were so many other exiting and stimulating ways that I could have spent my time (I grew up in DC, home to the best free university in the world–the Smithsonian Institution!). I also know that even when I graduated from Oberlin College, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I felt like whatever it was, I needed more training in order to really be able to do it.

Harvard’s report struck a cord with me, because of its emphasis on quality, holistic programs. The solutions lay at the nexus between intellectual development, workforce development, creative development, and “positive youth development”–all as facilitated by an engaged community of adults who can help support young people through their transition to independence.


Amidst the constant bipartisan bickering, the obliteration of the safety net for our nation’s most vulnerable populations (in the name of closing the budget gap), and the recent horrifying injustice that is the Troy Davis case, it’s wonderfully surprising and heartening to know that Congress introduced an incredibly thoughtful and desperately-needed piece of legislation, aimed at supporting disconnected youth. The Reengaging Americans in Serious Education by Uniting Programs Act (RAISE UP Act) targets youth who have dropped out of secondary school, are homeless, in foster care,  unemployed, young parents, in the juvenile justice system, or who are otherwise “disconnected” from a healthy support system to enable their successful transition to adulthood.

“By integrating essential, and often disparate, education, workforce, social services and supports, RAISE UP will provide pathways for disadvantaged youth to graduate from secondary school, attain a post-secondary credential, and secure family-supporting career.” (CLASP, 2011)

See CLASP’s analysis of the bill, and encourage your reps (or, if you live in Washington, DC, encourage your “shadow rep” to encourage her allies) to support the passage of it.

Falling in Love with Appreciative Inquiry

This weekend I spent working on my presentation for the North Carolina Library Association’s biannual conference (to be delivered in two weeks–YIKES!!), and writing a paper for my MLIS program’s Management class. I was thinking about the concept of participatory culture, and that led me down a research rabbit hole, through the tech world, youth development world, theological world, and management world. I landed thinking about a term I’d heard in a leadership class with Maureen Sullivan at DC Public Library–appreciative inquiry. I couldn’t quite remember what it was, but I remembered that Maureen spoke of it so affectionately and carefully, I knew it was important.

Lo and behold, appreciative inquiry is the LIGHT! Case Western Reserve University has a whole institute devoted to it, and developed a website dedicated to it–The Appreciative Inquiry Commons. Reading through the material, I feel so uplifted! Language about systemic change and transformation that is truly transformative! Language that doesn’t shy away from the true spiritual impact of the work. Check this out (a definition contributed by a member of the AI Commons):

“[Appreciative Inquiry] deliberately seeks to discover people’s exceptionality – their unique gifts, strengths, and qualities. It actively searches and recognizes people for their specialties – their essential contributions and achievements. And it is based on principles of equality of voice – everyone is asked to speak about their vision of the true, the good, and the possible. Appreciative Inquiry builds momentum and success because it believes in people. It really is an invitation to a positive revolution. Its goal is to discover in all human beings the exceptional and the essential. Its goal is to create organizations that are in full voice!”

Cooperrider, D.L. et. al. (Eds) , Lessons from the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry, Thin Book Publishing, 2001, page 12.

Exciting, no?

Your Story Has a Home Here: Creating Compassion and Understanding for the Homeless Through Art and Personal Story

I just saw that the article I wrote about the Your Story Has a Home Here project is on School Library Journal’s website! (Disclaimer, the version that appears here was edited by an SJL editor and placed online before I could take a look. As a rule, I don’t like using the word “kid” to refer to “teens”, but it’s done here with wild abandon. That being said, I’m TRULY grateful for having had the opportunity to share this project with the SJL audience!)

D.C. schools prepare for nation’s first sex-education standardized testing

Here’s the latest thing that’s got folks in DC talking. I think it’s great that DC Public Schools is taking health education as seriously as other subject areas. But I think using a standardized test to try to measure students’ success with negotiating incredibly nuanced social situations is misguided. I took the 9-question sample test, and it’s got some questions that are very situational and debatable. They merit discussion, not scoring. (For the record, I got 8 out of 9 right–the one I got wrong was the amount of time it takes for male gonorrhea symptoms to appear!)