YO! News

Youth Opportunity (YO!) Baltimore Provides Insights in “Don’t Call Them Dropouts,” a National Report from America’s Promise Alliance

May 2014 – Several youth from Baltimore City participated in a national study conducted by America’s Promise Alliance. The study participants from Baltimore are all members of Youth Opportunity (YO!) Baltimore, which serves out-of-school, out-of-work teens and young adults. The America’s Promise Alliance report, Don’t Call Them Dropouts, revealed that students who leave high school without graduating do so not out of boredom or lack of motivation, but because they are overwhelmed by many serious challenges in their daily lives, including homelessness, violent surroundings, abuse or neglect, family health events, and the absence of caring adults who can help them stay in school.

“This study is a remarkable look at the unique stories and struggles of individual young people here in Baltimore and across the United States that – taken together – reveal repeating patterns,” said Karen Sitnick, director of the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, which operates YO! Baltimore. “YO! is an established program that provides productive employment and educational alternatives within supportive environments for young people who have left school without graduating. We appreciate that YO! members had the opportunity to add their voices to this important study and thank America’s Promise for raising awareness of these important issues.”

YO! Baltimore was founded in 2000 to address the many needs of youth and young adults disconnected from traditional learning environments and the workforce. Over the past 14 years, YO! has provided academic, career/job training, advocacy, mentoring, health and social support services to thousands of out-of-school, out-of-work city youth.

In the largest nationwide study of its kind to date, young adults who left high school without graduating, spoke at length about their experiences and the reasons why they did not complete high school on time. Baltimore’s two YO! Centers, one in East Baltimore and one in West Baltimore, and 15 other sites were among those that participated. The researchers began with in-depth interviews with more than 200 young people – several who had not graduated from high school – and then conducted a quantitative survey of more than 2,000 young adults ages 18-25 who did not complete high school on time. In addition, 1,000 students who graduated on time were surveyed for comparison. To view the full report visit http://GradNation.org/NotDropouts.

“It is easy to label young people who leave school as ‘dropouts’ and to conclude that these young people are unmotivated, that they are quitters or losers. We’ve tried to dig deeper to better understand the challenges these young people face and choices they make,” said John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “The stories we heard were full of heartbreak and hope. This report gives a crucial window into the lives of young people who choose to leave school, and in this way helps us devise responses that will help young people stay on track to adult success.”

As the nation reaches the all-time high of an 80 percent on-time high school graduation rate, this report listens deeply to what the remaining 20 percent say is happening in their lives, and what they need to stay in school. Their answers defy some common beliefs about why they do not graduate on time, while giving deeper meaning to others.

Don’t Call Them Dropouts, a report by America’s Promise Alliance based on research conducted by its Center for Promise at Tufts University, was funded by Target. It is part of the GradNation campaign to reach the national goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.

The report’s name comes from the plea of many participants that they not be defined with the pejorative label of “dropouts,” as they do not believe it fairly reflects their circumstances. “They don’t feel they’ve dropped out of anything,” said Jonathan Zaff, director of the Center for Promise and lead researcher of the study. “They reluctantly concluded that school was either nonresponsive or irrelevant to their urgent needs, so leaving became a necessity for them to take control of their lives.”

Youth Opportunity Baltimore is operated by the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development’s Youth Services division. Since 2000, YO! has served approximately 7,000 Baltimore residents between the ages of 16-24, linking them with more than 150 community-based educational, workforce preparation and personal development services. Key YO! partners include the Baltimore City Department of Juvenile Services, Baltimore City Public Schools, Civic Works, the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition (HEBCAC), the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Adolescent Health, and Sinai Hospital. www.oedworks.com

America’s Promise Alliance is the nation’s largest partnership dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth. We bring together more than 400 national organizations representing nonprofit groups, businesses, communities, educators and policymakers. Through our GradNation campaign, we mobilize Americans improve on-time high school graduation rates to 90 percent by 2020, so young people are prepared for college and the 21st century workforce. Building on the legacy of our founding chairman General Colin Powell, America’s Promise believes the success of young people is grounded in the Five Promises—Caring Adults, Safe Places, A Healthy Start, Effective Education, and Opportunities to Help Others. For more information, visit AmericasPromise.org.