One four-year program in New York City helped change the
way high-school boys think about their schools – and about themselves.
Last spring, when
seniors at 40 public high schools across New York City walked across the
graduation stage, they carried some intangible things along with their
diplomas: a sense of belonging in their school communities, meaningful
connections with the adults in their buildings, and a tendency to look toward
The Young Men’s
Initiative – part of a larger program called the Expanding Success Initiative –
launched in 2012. Each of the 40 participating public high schools received
$250,000 in funding over three years for the four-year program, which was
focused on improving college and career readiness for black and Latino young
outcomes have thus far proved elusive, researchers have seen a measurable
impact on things like students’ sense of belonging in their schools,
participation in school activities, and the frequency with which students
discuss their future plans with adults.
I think one can make an argument that these are worthwhile [outcomes] if you
are trying to improve students’ experiences,” says Adriana Villavicencio,
director of the Research Alliance of New York City Schools at New York
University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
“Improving students’ experience in high school may have an influence on how
they experience other similar settings, whether it’s in college or in the
that participated in the initiative had broad latitude in choosing what
specific types of programming to offer, but were required to create or expand
services and supports in the areas of academics, youth development, and school
culture. Mentoring was one of the most common choices, with schools
implementing both peer and adult mentoring programs. Also, more than three
quarters of the schools used their funding to take students on college trips,
with many of the schools expanding access to the trips to underclassmen – promoting
the idea that students should be thinking about higher education from the
moment they enter high school. Some schools also attempted to change their approach
to student discipline, implementing alternative-to-suspension programs. Through
the initiative, schools received robust professional development on culturally
relevant education, and nearly all of the schools reported changes to their
pedagogical practices, including making efforts to create curriculum that is
relevant to the students’ lives, to be aware of implicit biases, and to
consider gender and race when analyzing student data.
emphasized the involvement of both individual school communities and the larger
community of the city. Schools were encouraged to include not only administrators
and teachers in decisions around programming, but also other school community
members like guidance counselors, deans, and school safety officers, who are
frequently left out of such conversations. Schools were also encouraged to
partner with vendors and community-based organizations with experience working
successfully with black and Latino young men.
released yearly reports throughout the four-year program. While final data on
things like college enrollment and graduation rates haven’t yet been made
available, Villavicencio says that reports from previous years have not revealed
significant impacts on academic metrics like grade-point average and credit
other longitudinal studies have shown benefits years after educational programs
end, Villavicencio says, adding that it’s possible that students who participated
in the Young Men’s Initiative will see improved career- and college-related
outcomes in the future. The program, Villavicencio points out, has given
students a foundation of knowledge to better access college and career
opportunities, as well as a support network to draw on when they face
challenges. “So maybe there are things that we can’t measure right at this
moment, that would show up later,” she says.
even if those results never materialize, Villavicencio says, the non-cognitive
benefits are valuable for their own sake, especially for a student population
that has historically felt “disenfranchised” by their school experience.
says: “For many students who feel like when they get into schools, they kind of
have to be a different person, or take off pieces of their identity, to have a
smooth day – I think that not having to do that, and being able to have frank
and honest conversations about race and gender, I think that’s certainly
valuable in and of itself.”
and her team will be reporting the final results in September 2017.
Villavicencio is Deputy Director at the Research Alliance for New York City
Schools. She also leads the Research Alliance’s evaluation of the Expanded
Success Initiative, which aims to improve college readiness among NYC’s Black
and Latino young men.
Dr. Villavicencio has conducted several
studies documenting practices in successful schools, including “turnaround”
middle schools and the City’s small high schools of choice.
In 2016, Dr. Villavicenio spoke at PCG’s
MBK Summit at SXSWedu. Click here to read her guest blog post, Culturally Relevant
Curriculum.We look forward to
continuing the discussion about community engagement and My Brother’s Keeper at
SXSWedu 2017 during the Engaging the Community problem solver session.