The Boston Opportunity Youth Collaborative (OYC) is made up of 80 different partners, including local community-based organizations, the Boston Public Schools, philanthropy, city and state agencies, and postsecondary institutions. We first came together in the spring of 2013, co-convened by the Boston Opportunity Agenda and the Boston Private Industry Council through funding from the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund.
Through a year-long planning process in 2013, the OYC designed potential pathways for three segments of Boston’s 11,000 opportunity youth:
- 16-19 year old dropouts,
- 20-24 year olds who don’t have a high school degree, and
- 20-24 year olds who do have a degree.
We found that, thanks to a decade of robust work in high school dropout prevention and recovery, the city’s opportunity youth population skews heavily toward 20-24 year olds who already have a high school degree – they outnumber dropouts nearly 2.5 to 1. While recognizing the importance of continuing to advocate for dropouts and younger youth, the OYC prioritized serving the larger group of 20-24 year olds who have a high school diploma.
The Boston Opportunity Youth Collaborative will:
- Reconnect young adults (16-24) to education and employment pathways (both existing and new)
- Use innovative solutions to fill gaps and better connect stakeholders in the system that currently serves opportunity youth, and
- Strengthen our proven collaborative efforts to effect systems and policy changes at the local and state levels.
Our pathway building blocks for opportunity youth include four types of programming and systems work: college completion, HiSET (formerly GED) preparation and college bridging help, occupational skills training, and dropout prevention and recovery advocacy.
In 2015, the OYC is taking a number of steps toward accomplishing its goals, including:
- Opening a Connection Center to help youth connect to education and employment, and funding programming that will serve those youth
- Prioritizing and expanding the role of youth voice in planning pathways
- Continuing to convene as a group, using the power of collective impact to drive systems change
- Putting in place a data-sharing system that will allow the OYC to track youth across programs and educational institutions.
Who are opportunity youth?
Opportunity youth are 16-24 year olds who are not in school or working. Opportunity youth include:
- Unemployed youth who are not in school;
- Enrolled dropouts – students who are enrolled in high school, but are not attending class regularly and are not progressing;
- Youth who are enrolled in college part-time and are not employed; and
- Youth who are not enrolled in school and are only working part-time.
What does the OYC do?
Through its planning process, the OYC conceived of a Connection Center: a one-stop resource center where opportunity youth can drop in, have their interests and options assessed, and then get connected to appropriate training, education, and career opportunities. The Connection Center opened its doors in early 2015, operated by X-Cel Education in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The Center’s success coaches, most of whom are former opportunity youth themselves, work one-on-one with young people as they come in the door. They provide caring, knowledgeable guidance, placement, and follow-up services.
In planning for a stronger system in Boston, the OYC realized that connection services alone are not enough – our research found a wide gap between the large number of opportunity youth in Boston and the relatively small number of education and training opportunities available to them. To jump-start the creation of more Boston program seats for opportunity youth, the OYC contracted four high-performing partner programs. Asian American Civic Association, College Bound Dorchester, and JVS will provide college bridging and navigation support, employment coaching and referrals, and job training for opportunity youth. In addition, nine other organizations have officially agreed to both refer to and accept referrals from the Connection Center, and Connection Center staff continue to build a network of allies among local programs and institutions.
In order to track opportunity youths’ progress through the pathways that we’ve built, the OYC is working to create a collectively-shared data system. That system will allow us to follow young people across programs and educational institutions, giving us strong data to use as we work with partners to celebrate successes and to close loops where opportunity youth become disconnected. We are also continuing to work with community college partners to increase student support and connections for opportunity youth on campus, we’re seeking to expand the number of programs that are using the Back on Track model, and we’re making certain that youth voice is the bedrock of all our work.