March 8 — 12:00 am, 2007

Local nonprofits help fill service gaps to city youth

Long-term partnerships distinguish these groups from typical School District vendors.

With many services of the School District of Philadelphia now contracted out to for-profit and nonprofit organizations (see the Notebook‘s Fall 2006 issue), it is worth noting an important distinction between contractors that are long-term partners with the District and those that are typical vendors seeking to sell goods or services.

A look at the work of four local nonprofits – Philadelphia Youth Network, Communities in Schools of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Education Fund, and Philadelphia Academies, Inc. – helps us understand the value of the investment the District is making when it contracts with these long-term partners for services.

No community can rely on schools alone to do the job of educating youth and ensuring they have a good start into adulthood. Partnerships between schools and outside groups are especially valuable in the secondary school years as many youth start connecting to other systems, such as the work world or post-secondary education.

In preparing for a job or college, or just staying in high school, Philadelphia’s youth have a rich network of nonprofit organizations looking out for them, working hard to fill in the gaps in what the public schools can provide.

To describe such groups, observers have coined the term “intermediary,” because they make necessary links – among organizations and to services – that would not happen otherwise.

The Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) and the Philadelphia Academies, Inc. have developed relationships with employers citywide to provide internships, summer work experiences, and mentors to connect youth to careers. Communities in Schools of Philadelphia (CISP) helps teen parents find child care and services to stay in school. The Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF) provides college guidance and scholarships. These are only a few of the functions each of these organizations performs; these examples provide a window on how such organizations support public schools.

What roles can intermediaries play for school districts? By linking across sectors, they fill in gaps and add new resources, bring new ideas, and offer focused assistance. In addition, intermediaries serve as conveners for broad dialogue on education, “critical friends” to press for quality, and providers of continuity across administrations.

Like most intermediaries, the groups discussed here are local and have a long history of working with the District. The Academies’ history dates back to the late 1960s, PEF and CISP each have a 20-year history, and PYN – the newest kid on the block – started up eight years ago. The Philadelphia School District spawned three of the four organizations – PEF and CISP in the 1980s under Constance Clayton, and PYN in the late 1990s under David Hornbeck.

Each of these groups connects the School District with other service organizations and sectors – filling in gaps by focusing on transitions for youth. CISP, PYN, and the Philadelphia Academies, Inc. provide strong connections to the world of work. They develop relationships with the business community to set up internships, summer work, mentoring, and partnerships with small learning communities. Their programs are intended to keep youth in school, facilitate the transition to work, and enhance their out-of-school experiences. CISP, for example, aims to help students with disabilities, teen mothers and fathers, and, in collaboration with PYN, out-of-school youth and non-traditional students. As Martin Nock, CISP executive director said, “We can look through the eyes of kids.”

Laura Shubilla, the director of PYN, sees the group as helping the District fashion a school-to-work strategy. The District funds the salaries of 10 percent of the 8,000 youth who participate in PYN’s summer work program, and PYN works with the District in creating “multiple pathways” for youth to improve the likelihood they will stay in school.

As nimble and flexible organizations, nonprofit intermediaries are often better able than the District to take quick action and trace the outcomes of their efforts, making them ideal vehicles for the business and foundation communities to support public education. The Philadelphia Academies, Inc. characterizes itself as a “portal to the business community.” The Academies’ funding and sponsorship base is diverse, including business, foundation, and state and federal sources. Support for the different academy themes, such as hospitality, comes from local industry.

PEF’s Math-Science Collaborative brings industry’s perspective to key areas of learning, and its Pipeline to the Future project, which is aimed at attracting and retaining new high-quality teachers, connects with universities across the region. In convening the Youth Council, which focuses on strategies to support out-of-school youth, PYN helped position Philadelphia to receive foundation grants to support a major campaign to reduce dropouts.

School District funds are only a part of these groups’ budgets. Other funding and expertise that support them also add resources to the local public schools. PYN and PEF, for example, bring in federal funds for school-to-work and summer jobs as well as for college prep support. The District’s investment in PYN for summer youth internships piggybacks on the organization’s expertise in carrying out the local youth employment component of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Act.

Each of the nonprofit organizations described here plays a role in providing the District with constructive criticism as well as support. PYN describes itself as a “thought partner” to the District. The PEF leadership says it tries to send the District the message, “We are here when you need us, and we’re here when you don’t think you need us.”

As “conveners,” these groups provide a table where organizations concerned with youth and education come together with the District, set agendas, and work towards addressing goals. PEF’s Math-Science Collaborative or PYN’s Philadelphia Youth Transitions Collaborative are good examples.

Finally, these groups all see themselves as providing continuity for the city in efforts to support students and youth. They have ridden the waves of reform, adapting their programs and efforts to each new administration, providing a historical memory. By helping to shape the priorities of each new top administrator, each of the groups has been able to sustain important programs and supports.

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