YouthBuild Newark and Opportunity Youth Network Launch NJ's First Charter School for Alternative Education

LEAD Charter School After over 13 years of providing comprehensive education and workforce training to opportunity youth, YouthBuild Newark (YBN) has partnered with the Opportunity Youth Network (OYN) to launch LEAD Charter School (LEAD), New Jersey's first alternative education charter school

According to data from Newark Public Schools, there are roughly 7,000 Newark youth between the ages 16-24 who are either two or more years off-track to graduate (i.e., severely over-age and under-credited) or are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market (i.e., opportunity youth). These young people are often “disconnected” from strong social networks and may become vulnerable to negative outcomes.

Operating a comprehensive, skills-based program that is grounded in youth development, LEAD Charter School will help students in grades 9th through 12th master the essential skills crucial for success in postsecondary education, career, and community leadership within a global society. LEAD’s core course of study complies with the NJ Department of Education’s (DOE) high school graduation requirements and includes at a minimum: Language Arts Literacy, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, World Language, Visual & Performing Arts, Health, Safety & Physical Education, 21st Century Life & Career or Career & Technical Education, and electives, including but not limited to, Financial Literacy, Life Skills, and Business Computer Technology.

Failing to engage this population of young people has significant economic repercussions that negatively impact families, local communities, the workforce, and municipal revenues. Leveraging YBN’s expertise in improving educational outcomes for opportunity youth, LEAD will pave the way for how charter schools serve disengaged and opportunity youth.

LEAD will be housed on the 2nd floor of a newly renovated facility located at 201 Bergen Street in Newark. It will be co-located with the OYN Reengagement Center (REC), a one-stop shop for opportunity youth to access assessment and placement services. Slated to open for the 2017-2018 school year, LEAD will function as an effective option for disengaged and opportunity youth following their transition from the REC.  The REC and LEAD Charter School are core components of OYN’s strategy to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. 

The LEAD Charter School Board is comprised of community leaders committed to helping youth navigate pathways to economic stability, positive community engagement, and leadership.

Rodney Brutton, MPA, Director of Workforce Development, New Community Corporation
Robert Clark, Founding Executive Director, YouthBuild Newark
Craig Drinkard, MBA, Associate Director for Operations, Victoria Foundation
Jennifer Finnerty, Vice President, Prudential Financial
Ryan P. Haygood, Esq., President and CEO, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
Dominique Lee, Co-Founder & CEO, BRICK
Shawadeim Reagans, School Leader & Leadership Coach, TEAM Charter Schools: A KIPP Region
Lavar Young, Director, Newark, Black Alliance for Educational Options

LEAD will increase the number of “high-quality” seats available to opportunity youth – creating more choices for youth and families, in addition to traditional public schools.

Read the NJ Department of Education press release here.

YouthBuild Newark, City of Newark, Newark Public Schools Launch the Opportunity Youth Network

OYN Logo

Roughly 7,000 16 to 24 year olds in Newark are not employed or in school. 7,000 youth face the challenge of becoming stable adults who can provide for their families, own a home and other assets, and participate in Newark’s economy. The “disconnectedness” of these youth results in devastating personal economic loss that negatively affects families, communities, the local workforce talent pool, and municipal revenues.  To address this call-to-action, the Opportunity Youth Network was formed, a collective whose name underscores the great social and economic impact of local youth.

OYN Description

Comprised of the City of Newark, Newark Public Schools (NPS), Rutgers University-Newark and several community-based organizations, OYN has the goal of disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. The OYN framework is based upon YouthBuild Newark’s (YBN’s) proven youth development principles and the evidence-based practices YBN has used to serve Greater Newark opportunity youth for over 12 years. YBN’s Founding Executive Director is lead visionary.

OYN will serve as an innovator, convener, and backbone for the opportunity youth sector in Newark. The collective has developed a comprehensive strategy to ensure the broad network of programs available throughout Newark are effectively working together to reengage youth. The core goals of this strategy include:

OYN 2016-2017 Activities

OYN is working with six partners to expand the current offerings available to opportunity youth across the city. These organizations include: La Casa De Don Pedro, Urban League of Essex County, New Community Corporation, Rutgers TEEM Gateway, Mayor Baraka’s Street Academy and Leaders for Life. Each organization will become a full service provider for up to 50 students in both high school equivalency and workforce development programming – each with their own unique offerings. These offerings will supplement the two alternative education high schools at NPS, Newark Leadership Academy and UPLIFT Academy. In addition, Mayor Baraka’s Street Academy – a new program created to reengage disconnected youth through social-emotional learning, civic proficiency, community outreach and volunteerism – will help connect OYN staff with disengaged youth.

OYN Impact

On Thursday, November 3rd, OYN announced the launch of the Reengagement Center (REC), a one-stop-shop for disconnected youth looking for reenrollment and transfer services. The staff there, a combination of OYN, NPS, and Newark City employees, will conduct an academic and social assessment in order to determine the best school placement for each student. REC staff will then ensure that all students are matched to a school or program that meets their academic, social-emotional and professional needs. Once placed, the REC will follow students throughout their transition to their new school or program for a period of 90 days.

OYN REC Press Conference Audience

 OYN REC Ribbon-Cutting

OYN is addressing the critical needs of opportunity youth – defined as youth who are either two (2) or more years off-track to graduate (severely over-age and under-credited); are incarcerated; and/or are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market. OYN will serve as the intermediary for this collaboration – coordinating partners, providing backbone support and convening. In addition to supporting the improvement of programs, OYN will support the creation of a better system of service for opportunity youth.

Newark Public Schools' press release on OYN can be accessed here.

YouthBuild Newark Executive Director Recognized as Starbucks #Upstander

Executive Director Robert Clark was 1 of 10 people across the country to be recognized as a Starbucks #Upstander, someone who's doing "extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities." Also featuring YouthBuild Newark (YBN) graduates Hassan and Quanesha, the video takes viewers along Robert's personal journey to becoming Founder and Executive Director of YBN. 

Watch the video and read the article here.


Prudential 20 Stories of Strength

YBN was featured in 20 Stories of Strength, a campaign created by Prudential to highlight Newark companies and individuals doing great work in the city. View YBN's story here

Paint and Possibility: A New Partnership with Benjamin Moore

Benjamin Moore PartnershipJumpstarting a new partnership, NJ-based company Benjamin Moore has donated several palettes of paint to YBN to support the agency's affordable housing development and job training programming. The company will also participate in paint days, and students will soon be able to regularly tour the company's manufacturing plant in Newark and distribution plant in Clifton to learn about various aspects of and professions in the paint industry. 

Benjamin Moore Paint Donation

Benjamin Moore has partnered with national affiliate YouthBuild USA (YBUSA), and prior to launching a large-scale effort, is looking to pilot initiatives with agencies and collaboratives in select areas, including New Jersey.


Prudential CARES: Company Employees are Construction Workers for a Day

Prudential CARES Volunteer and YBN studentThroughout the year, Prudential employees from various departments have donated their time and skills to YBN through Prudential CARES programs. In 2016, volunteers spent a total of 9 days working alongside YBN staff to revitalize low-income homes and prepare the facility that now houses the newly re-launched Reengagement Center (REC) and LEAD Charter School. 

On one recent build day, members of Prudential’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Team worked on one of YBN’s construction sites in Newark’s West Ward.  Working alongside YBN students and staff, volunteers donned goggles and gloves to assist with various tasks ranging from interior and exterior painting to hanging sheetrock, and applying insulation. 

Prudential CARES Volunteers Painting

Volunteers ended the day touring 27 Seymour Avenue, the site of the home students completed in April 2016. 

Prudential CARES Volunteer and Wheelbarrow

Prudential CARES Volunteer Laughing with YBN Student

Prudential CARES Volunteers Group Photo

YouthBuild Newark Highlighted by America's Promise Alliance

Check out this article by America's Promise Alliance to learn about the work YouthBuild Newark (YBN) is doing in partnership with Newark Leadership Academy and UPLIFT Academy to position more and more school-aged young people for life success. 

YouthBuild Newark Convenes Its Largest Summer Institute Yet

Working to ensure all youth served by its network of partners have access to high-quality services, in August 2016, YouthBuild Newark (YBN) convened its 5th and largest Summer Institute, a professional development gathering that precedes each school year. 67 education professionals, including principals, executive administrators, and frontline staff, attended the weeklong event.

Newark Public Schools Central Office, Newark Leadership Academy, UPLIFT Academy, and Newark Street Academy staffers gathered at YBN’s office in Newark’s West Ward for several days of interactive learning and knowledge exchange. Representatives of Opportunity Youth Network (OYN) community-based organizations – La Casa de Don Pedro, Leaders for Life, New Community Corporation, Rutgers University T.E.E.M. Gateway, and the Urban League of Essex County – were also present. Attendees delved into strategic planning, their role within the YBN model and student success, developing a strength-based school climate and culture, and fine-tuned strategies for engaging students. The Summer Institute sets the tone for the collaborative trainings that are held throughout the school year.

Completing the Year's 1st Affordable Home

Project Partners

Earlier this year, public and private organizations, residents, and over 60 students from YouthBuild Newark (YBN) and Newark Leadership Academy (NLA) gathered to celebrate students' rehabilitation of a 2-family affordable home in Newark’s South Ward.

Front view of rehabbed home

Representatives from the City of Newark, JP Morgan Chase, New Jersey Community Capital, and the Community Asset Preservation Corporation, and Congressman Donald Payne participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The completed home, slated to be sold to a low-income family or individual, is located on Seymour Avenue, which is at the core of Newark’s “Model Block” initiative. “Model Block” is designed to bring a comprehensive revitalization strategy to an area (the South Ward) dealing with significant blight.


YBN, the City of Newark, New Jersey Community Capital, the Community Asset Preservation, and other community partners are working together to develop additional properties in the neighborhood.

YouthBuild Newark Construction Team

Congressman Donald Payne

2016 YBN Grad Wendy Cruz

Darell, UPLIFT Academy Graduate

Darell W.Darell W., UPLIFT Academy Class of 2016 Graduate

After getting kicked out of West Side High School in the 12th grade, Darell developed into what he calls a "hangsta." "I was little bit in the streets, but on my way out," he says. "I got myself a job, started working security, trying to get my life together." 

But without a degree, Darell couldn't visualize a way to move forward. "I felt like I couldn't go any further unless I stopped and got my diploma." After visiting various agencies, Newark Public Schools referred him to UPLIFT Academy, 1 of 2 transfer schools in the district and a key YBN partner.

With the credits he’d earned while at West Side, it took Darell only a year to get his high school diploma. In that short time, UPLIFT Academy left an impression. “I liked how [the teachers] interacted with the students. They didn’t just teach us. They didn’t just look at us like [we were] students. They looked at us like young people trying to make a way for themselves.”  He continues, “We didn’t see them just as teachers – we saw them as mentors.” Darell considers UPLIFT’s Principal, Chief Innovation Officer, and Director of Operations among the staff who particularly helped him transform from a ‘hangsta’ to a high school graduate. 

While he had the option to access vocational training during his enrollment, work prevented him from dedicating the time required. Yet, soon after graduating from UPLIFT, Darell found himself jobless. Two days later, UPLIFT’s Principal, Mark Comesañas, presented YBN’s construction training program as an opportunity. At first hesitant, Darell realized he enjoyed it. “I like working with my hands. I didn’t even actually know that,” he explains. Darell now has a core craft credential from the reputable National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). Out of a cohort of 12 students, he was also the only one to achieve his GPRO certification. Developed by Urban Green Council, USGBC New York, GPRO is a comprehensive national training and certificate program that teaches the people who build, renovate and maintain buildings the principles of sustainability combined with trade-specific green construction knowledge. Darell recently became a YBN construction intern, which will allow him to continue to develop his skills on the agency’s construction sites full-time.

Darell plans to enroll in college where he will major in business management. Eventually, he’ll launch his own company. He looks forward to emulating his father, who owns six businesses. “I’ve been watching him my whole life…watching him do business,” says Darell. “I want to be jack-of-all trades when it comes to it.”