Gathering for Young People: Stakeholders from Mexico Visit YouthBuild Newark

Gathering for Young People (1)When young people are the focus of the conversation, social, cultural, and political differences become less of a barrier and more of an invitation for sharing, discovery, and community-building. Notwithstanding the unexpected snowfall and blistery temps, Friday, February 10th provided an occasion for just that. Marking its 8th time serving as host to an international group, YouthBuild Newark (YBN) had the opportunity to discuss its collective education approach with individuals from a bordering Latin American country more than 2,000 miles away –  Mexico! Representatives from YouthBuild Mexico, Mexican government, research institutions, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered at the Opportunity Youth Network's (OYN's) recently launched Reengagement Center to learn more about YBN and the work the agency is doing to make sure Newark's opportunity youth have the resources they need to thrive.

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YouthBuild International (YBIL), YouthBuild USA, the YouthBuild Charter School of California network, and a local foundation were also present. With guests being particularly interested in learning more about school design options for opportunity youth –  which has been YBN's target population since the agency opened its doors in 2003 –  the discussion centered around YBN's evolution from a small community-based organization to a convener, technical assistance provider, and visionary for OYN, a collective with the goal of disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline in Newark.

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The group discussed Newark Leadership Academy and UPLIFT Academy (formerly Fast Track Success Academy), the two transfer schools YBN helped to establish and continues to support through virtual and on-site technical assistance, professional development, and staffing. Participants also learned about the OYN’s vision and framework, including LEAD Charter School, New Jersey's first alternative education charter school that will enroll its first cohort of students this fall.

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YBN is grateful to YouthBuild International for being able to engage more and more individuals and groups in discussions and innovations that help opportunity youth break the cycle of poverty. Friday's gathering was an example of how physical boundaries become irrelevant when people share an interest in one of the world's most vital resources – young people.

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Op-Ed: Reconnecting 'Opportunity Youth' Will Help Communities Thrive


Walk around Newark on a weekday and you will see a lot of young men and women of school age who aren’t in school. In a city where about 600 kids a year drop out, it would be tempting to call this a failure. Really, it’s an opportunity.

That’s why those who see the potential of young people aged 16 to 24, who are neither engaged in school nor the workforce, call them “opportunity youth.”

Disengaged youth are more likely to get caught up in the legal system, become parents prematurely, and face mental and physical health challenges. The jobs they do find pay too little to get by. These trends are particularly grim for young black men: one in four who drop out of high school will end up in prison.

When opportunity youth can be reengaged, however, it’s a gain not just for them but also for the communities where they live and society as a whole. The reasons they become disengaged vary. “For millions of American youth, the road to adulthood takes a number of detours,” notes a report by Civic Enterprise for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It’s a costly road for all of us. Estimates are that our approximately 6 million opportunity youth cost the nation over $70 billion a year — from lost earnings and tax revenue to increased spending on crime, social services, and healthcare.

Heightened awareness of the situation was the impetus for a nationwide initiative begun in 2013, from Los Angeles and New York to the Hopi reservation in Arizona, supported by the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund, a collaborative developed and led by the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions. Corporate America is paying attention too: Over 30 companies have formed a coalition with the goal of hiring and “up-skilling” 100,000 opportunity youth.

Newark is home to the first New Jersey-based opportunity youth effort. It’s a collaboration that includes the city, its public schools, Rutgers University-Newark, local foundations, and a broad coalition of community-based organizations. The breadth of the partnership reflects both the vision so many Newark residents share of a thriving city where no one’s potential is wasted, and the multifaceted approach needed to help opportunity youth. As diverse as the reasons for disconnecting are, so are the actions needed to bring our youth back. It takes a variety of educational approaches, training, mentorships willing employers, and intensely coordinated community efforts.

Only then can we harness the potential of this group of previously disengaged and overlooked young people.

“Overlooked” is a key word here. America’s school districts often aren’t equipped to provide the necessary supports. Opportunity youth, unlike students with disabilities or those with limited English proficiency, are not a protected class under federal or state education laws. Local education agencies are not required to reengage young people once they have disconnected from schooling after a certain age and time. City agencies and community groups often work to fill in the gaps, but their efforts aren’t coordinated or comprehensive enough to catch most students who fall through the cracks.

In the months since OYN started up in Newark, we’ve engaged in a community-driven strategy that streamlines opportunity-youth reengagement, assessment, academic and nonacademic services, and intervention. It begins with our new Reengagement Center on Bergen Street — a gateway that facilitates transfers and placements for returning out-of-school youth, using individual evaluations to place young people in a growing array of alternative education and training venues.

Spurred by an initial investment of $2.5 million by the Foundation for Newark’s Future, through a donation from Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Newark’s strategy to support our opportunity youth has the potential to be the most comprehensive in the country.

The breadth of its portfolio distinguishes Newark’s approach. Options include two district alternative high schools, six community-based organization programs offering credit-bearing courses, Rutgers University-Newark as a research partner, New Jersey’s first alternative charter high school, and a new citywide initiative called the Mayor’s Street Academy, created to reengage disconnected youth through social-emotional learning, civic proficiency, community outreach, and volunteerism.

For too long, opportunity youth have languished in the education and economic backwaters. Each of these young people represents locked-up potential that could be contributing to the common good.

When young people are neither learning nor earning, we all fall behind. So let’s stop focusing on what they’ve left and lost, and instead help opportunity youth realize their fullest potential.

This op-ed was written by YouthBuild Newark's Executive Director Robert Clark. It originally appeared in NJ Spotlight.

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.