Since the formal launch of the National Partnership for Student Success on July 5, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of connecting with the teams at many of the national youth development organizations – (Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Camp Fire National, Girls Inc., Horizons National, National 4-H Council, and YMCA of the USA) as well as major associations in the afterschool and summer space – Afterschool Alliance, National Afterschool Association, National Summer Learning Association, Every Hour Counts – as they’ve leaned in to help ensure the success of the initiative. In all of these discussions about how to ensure that every young person in this country is receiving the key people-powered supports that will help them emerge from the pandemic with a positive trajectory, there has been a drumbeat – Build Upon, Not Build Anew.
For a field that is all about taking an assets-based approach, this is not a surprise.
While we often talk about assets in terms of the young person – and be assured that the agency and assets of young people are very much at the heart of NPSS – these discussions have been about recognizing, elevating, and leveraging the assets of the youth development field as a whole. How else as a nation could we possibly respond at scale to President Biden’s challenge to ensure that each and every student is getting the high-quality, people-powered supports that they need for success?
As Karen noted in her recent Youth Today guest opinion piece on the range of national initiatives that are underway, this feels like an unprecedented response for unprecedented times. The excitement and energy around the NPSS is palpable, but the conversations are definitely a combination of dreams and druthers, including hopes that the initiative will:
Recognize and resource youth workers. Like teachers, afterschool and youth workers have frequent, sometimes daily, contact with young people and their families. Like teachers, many are feeling overstretched and under-resourced after two and a half years of the pandemic, and share concerns that the workforce pipeline needs shoring up. Many of these professionals also play one or more of the high-quality, people-powered roles that are at the vanguard of this initiative – success coaches, tutors, mentors, wrap around support coordinators, post-secondary success coordinators. The “all hands on deck” approach of NPSS has the potential to provide some respite for educators and youth workers alike – identifying additional staff and volunteers that can both help “today” and refresh the professional pipeline for “tomorrow.”
Elevate the decades of quality improvement work that have been undertaken by the national youth-serving organizations as well as the major associations that have been developing standards around quality in afterschool and summer learning. As NPSS partners work to develop and share standards around each of the five people-powered supports, we are encouraged to do so in ways that connect to and elevate the commitment to continuous quality improvement at the staff, program, and organizational levels.
At both the state and local levels, increase the visibility of “the coordinators” – intermediaries, state and local service coordinators, state and local afterschool networks, cross-sector collaboratives, opportunity youth networks, and others that are in the business of making connections happen. While the level of infrastructure varies across localities, this is seen as a grand opportunity to lift up and strengthen what is already in place and build out this infrastructure in additional communities in ways that ensures that learning and development infrastructure stays in place for the long haul – and specifically, after the American Rescue Plan funds are no longer available
At the national level, elevate and align with related efforts – from the Power of Us Workforce Survey to Engage Every Student Initiative. In an ever-evolving landscape, the wish is for not only increased energy, but also for increased efficiency so that these efforts dedicated to effectiveness and scale can also be sustainable over time. The Power of Us will create a more comprehensive and complete picture of all of the roles needed to power NPSS and the afterschool and summer programs that the Engage Every Student Initiative seeks to ensure all young people have access to.
The “Build Upon, Not Build Anew” mantra requires that school districts and school systems have easy and efficient ways to recognize assets and challenges going on beyond their walls. At the national, state, and local levels we must work together to create conditions and supports that address the root causes of teacher shortages, many of which predated the pandemic – stress, isolation, lack of recognition, autonomy and support and dissatisfaction with accountability requirements that limit their ability to respond to the whole child.
NPSS is not the only solution to these long-term challenges. But it is more than a simple call to “just find 250,000 people … that will be able to replicate what research of ‘high quality’ programs has found.” The four build strategies signal an unprecedented level of commitment to organize and elevate the assets that exist so that we are not tempted to “build anew” in ways that pave over and replace existing strengths. The hidden strengthen being tapped is the strength of the non-profit sector to come together to recruit, redistribute, redirect, and train staff and volunteers who can support student learning in and out of the classroom and have more capacity to coordinate with schools not in conflict with but directly in support of the needs created by the current teacher shortages.