Wayfinders: Meeting Young People Where They Are

Back to school feels both familiar and unfamiliar this year. We all recognize the energy young people bring to a new school year, excited to be reunited with friends, classmates and teachers. At the same time, we’re still facing the uncertainties of a pandemic that we know has dramatically impacted the lives of young people — impacts ranging from working multiple jobs to support their families to changing or postponing plans to go to college. Giving young people the support they need to navigate their pathways has never been more important. We can meet young people wherever they are on their pathway with new roadmaps and the individualized support they need to make informed decisions that will get them closer to futures they envision for themselves. Individuals and organizations across the country are already showing what’s possible when young people have access to high-quality support and learning opportunities.

In this month’s Wayfinders:

  • A piece on the type of high-quality supports that help students stay on their educational path,
  • A report to help funders reflect on their own power, privilege and practices to advance social change,
  • Two examples of centering youth voices in practice to promote equity and achieve better education outcomes,
  • And finally, a collection of articles we’re reading and an upcoming event we’re looking forward to.

A Moment of Opportunity for Student Pathways Support

There are many efforts already underway to create more seamless experiences for young people as they navigate their education and career pathways. However, we’re still facing challenges in helping young people from diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds access new learning opportunities and navigate critical transition points — especially the jump from K-12 to postsecondary options. With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the lives of young people and the decisions and choices facing them with respect to their education and future careers, now is the time to shine a light on the programs that are finding new and innovative ways to support young people.

A recent blog post from Sara Allan, Director of Education, Early Learning and Pathways at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlights some of these bright spots. The piece showcases individuals and organizations united by the common goal of ensuring that young people have access to high-quality supports and learning opportunities, even during these challenging times. The work of Achieve AtlantaCUNY College Connect and Future Focused Texas Campaign are all examples of the kind of support that can help as young people continue their education. The College Advising Corps program was featured in a recent GatesNotes piece for their approach to helping students stay on the path to a college degree. We know that young people who go on to successfully transition to and complete their postsecondary education have much stronger labor market outcomes than their peers who do not, so it’s up to us to meet young people where they are and help them take the next step on their pathway. Read the full piece from Sara Allan here.

We Refuse to Lose: A Report to Philanthropy

No one entity alone can do the work of making educational and employment systems more equitable and accessible for all young people. Through stakeholder coordination, knowledge-sharing and capacity-building, backbone organizations, sometimes referred to as intermediary organizations, are uniquely positioned to identify and eliminate the specific barriers young people face in their communities as they work toward their future goals. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported backbone organizations in five communities — Buffalo, NY; Chattanooga, TN; Dallas, TX, the Rio Grande Valley, TX; and Tacoma, WA — that are leading cradle-to-career partnerships to close racial gaps for students from early education to careers. These experiences were captured in this video and the We Refuse to Lose series for education leaders to learn from as we work to improve outcomes for students of color and those experiencing poverty. The insights gained through this work also offer valuable lessons for funders committed to economic and racial justice.

The capstone publication in the We Refuse to Lose series was released last month and focuses on the power and privilege funders hold. TheWe Refuse to Lose Report to Philanthropyis designed to help funders reflect on their own practices that advance or set back racial justice, with concrete ideas and actions that grantmakers can take to act differently. The suggestions focus on what grantmakers can do to share power and adopt collaborative approaches to improve communities, advance social change and achieve more equitable education outcomes. To be better adult allies to young people, funding practices need to evolve in ways that empower local actors to lead and grow impact in their own communities. Read the full report here.

Centering Young People

Equitable Futures research has shown that when we listen to young people’s voices and view them as active participants in their education and career journeys — rather than as passive recipients of support or services — we can design programs and interventions that are reflective of the rich diversity of their identities and pathways. Earlier this year we launched Designing Pathways with Young People, a toolkit with resources and tools that translate research insights into actionable guidance for people working to improve education outcomes for Black and Latino young people, and young people experiencing poverty. Since then, we’ve heard from many of you on how you’re applying the Design Principles from the toolkit, which include centering young people in the work to support them and advancing equity at multiple levels. Two new case studies on the Equitable Futures website, highlighted below, provide examples of what these design principles can look like in practice.

  • Power On!: In 2019, social scientist Jane Margolis and her colleague Jean Ryoo at UCLA’s Computer Science Equity Project, launched an ambitious research project to better understand how students’ racial and gender identities impact their experiences in computer science education. Through an innovative partnership between the researchers, young people, and educators, the findings from the research project are now being translated into narrative form. The graphic novel, titled: Power On!: A Graphic Novel of Digital Empowerment, tells the story of four young friends as they navigate high school and learn to use computer science to challenge structural and racial barriers in their own lives and communities. It is scheduled for release in 2022 and is a catalyst for reimagining how computer science is taught and learned. The Power On! case study highlights two of the four Design Principles from the toolkit — Centering Youth Voices and Advancing Equity. Read more on Power Up! here.
  • Student Ambassador Fellowship programHere to Here (H2H), an organization based in New York, champions young people by working to redefine the systems that currently offer fewer career opportunities for young people of color. In 2019, H2H found a way to invite young people to be part of the solution to these systemic challenges by launching the Student Ambassador Fellowship program, a paid opportunity for students attending 15 high schools in the Bronx, New York to be leaders in sharing and disseminating work-based learning opportunities to their peers. Through their paid position as ambassadors, which is a role that is akin to assistant work-based learning coordinators, students have been able to strengthen their professional skills while supporting the H2H goal of making work-based learning more equitable and accessible. Through the participatory design of the fellowship and its focus on giving students the opportunity to learn while they earn, the program provides an example of all four of the Design Principles: Centering Youth Voices, Advancing Equity, Fostering Connections, and Illuminating and Providing Opportunities for Meaningful Exploration of Career Pathways. Read more on the Student Ambassador Fellowship program here.


Tuesday, October 12, 2021 | 3-4 p.m. ET
Off the Shelf and Into the Field: Optimizing Research for Practitioner User

People who support students on their education and career pathways are always looking for new and effective ways to reach young people. However, research and studies can often feel challenging and inaccessible. Join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Advancing Actionable Knowledge team, Collaborative for Student Success, MissionWired, and ResultsLab to learn how to make research accessible and actionable so that high-quality, evidence-based practices can be put into use. Register here.

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