How Bellwether Transformed Agencies Supporting Youth in Utah, California, and Louisiana, Part 3: The Orleans Parish School Board’s Youth Opportunity Center

Last week, you read about Bellwether’s work in Utah, where we helped a team at the State Board of Education develop a shared vision of quality for all their schools serving students in juvenile courts or the foster care system. Today I’ll provide more information about our work in New Orleans, where we supported the Youth Opportunity Center, part of the Orleans Parish School Board, to create an 18-month strategy to evolve from being a direct services provider to becoming a community leader.

Social workers employed by the Youth Opportunity Center provide intensive case management services for some of the highest need youth and families in the city of New Orleans. While the Youth Opportunity Center has historically provided direct service work, their goal is to build the capacity of other city partners and ultimately become a strong community voice, magnifying their reach and impact by positioning other agencies, nonprofits, and community-based organizations to provide aligned supports for young people in a coherent way.

In New Orleans, the poverty rate is twice the national average, and in the last school year, 25 percent of students were chronically absent — up from 21 percent the year before. Staff at the Youth Opportunity Center see that students and families struggle to re-engage in their education because of significant barriers to accessing social services (e.g., transportation, illiteracy, and/or negative prior experiences with government or law enforcement). Because of New Orleans’ decentralized education system, schools vary in their capacity to support the highest need students without resorting to exclusionary disciplinary practices that lead students to further disengage.

The video below is from Buffy, a lifetime New Orleans resident who struggled to succeed in school herself and who is now trying to ensure that her child has a better experience than she did.

The work that the Youth Opportunity Center did with Bellwether resulted in the creation of an 18-month plan focused on three goals:

  1. Improved outcomes for Youth Opportunity Center students
  2. Increased school and system capacity, awareness, and coordination
  3. Access to meaningful information that increases public engagement and awareness

Youth Opportunity Center staff in New Orleans reflected on their experience:

Partnering with the Bellwether team provided us the expertise and technical assistance we needed to capture the work of our program, while determining how to move the work forward as our 80+ schools unify under one local school district. The experience was rewarding and very insightful. During the in-person visit, rather than presenting themselves as outsiders, the Bellwether team genuinely joined with our team in a way that allowed us to align our knowledge and experience with their skills and expertise. Ultimately, they worked with us to develop a Theory of Action that depicts our work in a manner that’s easy to communicate and clearly illustrates our intended impact. The entire process was such a learning experience.

Bellwether Education Partners is currently accepting letters of interest from state and local leaders interested in partnering with us to improve coherence and coordination across agencies and departments to better serve young people who experience disruptions to their education pathways.

Read more of our blogging on ending fragmentation here. Check back next week for details about our work in California.