Disconnected Youth

During school year 2005-2006, 1,936 students left the Boston Public Schools (BPS) without a diploma. During the 2013-2014 school year, that number fell to 701, resulting in the lowest dropout rate in BPS history.

Now, the challenge is to reduce the dropout rate even further, while reaching out to BPS graduates who are not connected to the labor market or postsecondary education. The PIC organizes two collaborations in pursuit of these objectives—the Youth Transitions Task Force and the Opportunity Youth Collaborative.

In 2004, the Youth Transition Task Force was convened in order to lower the high school dropout rate. An early pilot dropout outreach initiative evolved into the Re-Engagement Center in 2009—a BPS-PIC partnership—that enrolls hundreds of dropouts annually, connecting them with appropriate school placements, both within the BPS and at nonprofit organizations. By 2016, the REC has brought over 2,500 students back to school.

In 2013, the PIC and Boston Opportunity Agenda co-convened the Boston Opportunity Youth Collaborative (OYC). The OYC has expanded the re-engagement agenda to include disconnected high school graduates. It is part of a national network of communities developing strategies for engaging opportunity youth—16-24-year-olds who are out of school and out of work. 

Shadé Johnson—Making the connection
A year after graduating high school, Shadé Johnson was out of school and unemployed. She sought help from a counselor at school-based nonprofit KeySteps, who referred her to the Connection Center.Read More>

During high school, Shadé Johnson participated in PIC leadership development activities, connected with employment through her career specialist, and received significant support from KeySteps, a school-based nonprofit that provides wrap-around services. A year after she graduated, Shadé was out of school and unemployed. She sought help from her KeySteps counselor, who referred her to the Connection Center.  

When Shadé walked through the Connection Center door, X-Cel Education Success Coach Kareem Lewis welcomed her and asked about her career aspirations. Shadé wanted to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) so Kareem accompanied her to an information session for a tuition-free CNA training program offered by East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and Bunker Hill Community College. Once enrolled, Shadé was quiet and sat at the back of the classroom. Her instructor, Mary LaMarra, recognized Shadé’s potential and encouraged her to sit front and center, prompting her to come out of her shell and rise to the top of the class.  

Shadé completed the CNA program in the spring of 2016 and passed the state CNA exam that June. Proud of her star student’s success, Mary recommended Shadé for a position at the health center. Shadé worked full-time as a CNA caring for elderly patients for almost a year, and then she found a new position in the emergency room at Massachusetts General Hospital. Shadé’s success demonstrates that there are opportunities for those who do not go on to college immediately after high school, particularly if they make the right connections.

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