An Essential Investment in our Youth and our Future

This is the second post in our monthly blog series highlighting the work of the Opportunity Youth Partnership.

The Opportunity Youth Partnership (OYP) is a collective impact initiative in Santa Clara County. Opportunity Youth are 16-24-years-old disconnected from education and/or employment. In Santa Clara County there are over 20,000 Opportunity Youth (see page 31). The OYP’s priority populations are Opportunity Youth who have experienced the justice system, foster systems, and/or homelessness, as well as those who are pregnant/parenting. This initiative brings together community based organizations and nonprofits, public systems, and employers to build pathways to education and career that lead to durable self-sufficiency.

By: Dr. Mary Ann Dewan
Deputy Superintendent, Santa Clara County Office of Education

Each year in Santa Clara County, more than 2,200 students leave high school without a diploma and face a future with little opportunity and near certain poverty. Four years ago, committed community leaders formed the Opportunity Youth Partnership (OYP) to begin tackling this issue. The Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) has been involved in OYP at a leadership level since the beginning. OYP seeks a reliable, repeatable, and measurable system that supports Opportunity Youth in moving themselves from disconnection to durable self-sufficiency – a Comprehensive Second Chance System (C2CS). SCCOE has invested in a critical element of such a C2CS through the development and launch of the Opportunity Youth Academy (OYA).


The OYA, a dependent charter school of the SCCOE, authorized by the Santa Clara County Board of Education, is an important example of our community’s investment to create opportunities for re-engagement and entry to a career pathway. Opportunity Youth are system-impacted, and navigating myriad barriers to education and career. Education solutions that are responsive to life circumstances and networked with community-based organizations providing support and stabilization, are critical if we are to achieve educational equity and help young people to build futures that work.

The OYA’s blended learning model meets Opportunity Youth where they are and sets them on a path to college and career. OYA offers students anytime/anywhere access to learning, whether that is via smartphone on the bus to work,  at night after children have gone to bed, or in one of 5 small classrooms across the county. Further, there are flexible options for direct teacher support through small group instruction, 1:1 personalized attention, or via chat applications while working remotely. This style of education works for even our most disadvantaged Opportunity Youth. At the June OYA graduation, a graduate told her personal story of escaping an abusive family and with the support of OYA, and the support system of the OYP partners, has earned her high school diploma, completed internships and is making a better life for her and her young child. There are many more stories like this waiting to be told.

The emerging C2CS in Santa Clara County is promising and the early results of collaboration are encouraging. However, the need for a robust collaborative infrastructure – with a focus on strengthening partnerships – is essential for achieving our shared goal of reducing youth and young adult disconnection in the county. The C2CS is better than our current system. It is easier for young people to navigate, and will ensure a best-fit approach to services and increases the likelihood of success. This more personalized approach supports better outcomes for disconnected youth in ways that conventional, generalized programs cannot.

The necessary policy and practice changes that can improve outcomes for opportunity youth are clear – we need to deepen our collective investment in youth engagement and leadership; align with the work of youth-led networks; and engage youth as equitable partners in our planning efforts. With 20,000+  Opportunity Youth living in Santa Clara County, and 15,000+ 18-24-year-olds without a diploma, this is an investment worth making. To do less could permanently impair the future of thousands of Opportunity Youth.

Our community has pulled together toward a shared vision and has shown that cross-sector collaboration works. Let’s finish what we started and provide our young people with an accessible, understandable comprehensive system for re-connection to education and workforce.

 

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