Leveraging Resources to Create Alternative Pathways to Education and Employment Training for Disconnected Youth

Leveraging Resources to Create Alternative Pathways to Education and Employment Training for Disconnected Youth
Leveraging Resources to Create Alternative Pathways to Education and Employment Training for Disconnected Youth


As a nation, we continue to face a dropout problem of epic portions. In 2007, 16% of all young people aged 16-24 were high school dropouts (approximately 6.2 million). Over a lifetime, they earn an average of $400,000 less than peers who have earned at least a high school diploma.  As research efforts nationwide have allowed us to understand the nuanced characteristics of the national dropout crisis, it is clear that solutions be born across multiple agencies and systems.  The advent of an increasing ability to link data across systems combined with sustained partnerships across agencies has allowed cities and other social service entities to identify red flags that precede a young person’s decision to drop out. And, thus, develop comprehensive prevention and intervention strategies including early warning indicator systems that both identify students at risk of dropping out and tailor appropriate interventions to meet their needs.  These efforts ensure that young people have access to a range of services, including education, employment training, health services, and mental health services to put them on a path to self-sufficiency. This event profiled successful efforts at the city-level to leverage a wide range of resources at federal, state, and local levels as well as private dollars and resources within the community to create a comprehensive portfolio of options for out-of-school and disconnected youth.

Jenny Bogoni, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN), opened the discussion by outlining the evolution of Philadelphia’s efforts to create a comprehensive portfolio of services to bring disconnected youth back to education and employment opportunities. Bogoni explained the broad mission of PYN is to increase the connections, capacity, and resources of individuals, organizations, and systems in order to provide world-class preparation so Philadelphia’s youth can thrive in a regional and global economy.  PYN began in 1999 to sustain the city’s School-to-Work system and manage provisions of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  From its inception, PYN was asked to staff the Youth Council and was awarded a competitive grant to serve as administrator of WIA and related investments, with the vision to use such funds to leverage additional investments from across and outside of the system to create broad systems change.  A decade later, PYN increased its portfolio of investments from $6 million to approximately $35 million and is known as a national leader in the management of large-scale youth workforce development systems for off-track and disconnected youth.  PYN manages a large-scale youth workforce development system serving nearly 10,000 youth annually and convenes a citywide collaborative that has dramatically increased the number of high-quality educational options for disconnected youth in the city. Its two cornerstone projects include WorkReady Philadelphia, the city’s youth workforce development system, and Project U-Turn, a cross-sector collaborative, addressing citywide capacity to support struggling students and out-of-school youth.

Bogoni highlighted the major successes of Project U-Turn, specifically the creation of nearly 5,000 multiple pathways slots, up from 200, representing a true portfolio of options for out-of-school and disconnected youth; a Re-Engagement Center at the Central School District headquarters to assist students in re-enrollment; an Education Support Center housed within the Department of Human Services; and more then $73 million leveraged to support the campaign’s diverse work plan.  In addition to Project U-Turn’s tangible success, the initiative garnered the support of the Mayor, Superintendent, and other key leaders enabling the collaborative to assemble and maintain a high-level, cross-sector partnership with a vision toward continued success.  Bogoni underscored that a key element in setting the stage for PYN’s successful results was the Philadelphia’s cultural shift to prioritize out-of-school and disconnected youth through the creation of a formal out-of-school committee and an increase in the Council’s investments related to out-of-school youth from 30% to 50% of the WIA funds.  Bogoni emphasized that those two changes in the culture laid the groundwork, thereby allowing Philadelphia to be known as a “city that takes out-of-school youth seriously.”  Bogoni noted that another key element in allowing this work to come to fruition was Philadelphia’s selection to receive funding from the Youth Transitions Funders Group, which granted the PYN a year to research the issues, including the merging of student data from the public schools, juvenile justice system, foster care system, and other sectors in order to better understand the nuanced path of disconnected youth. This intensive data analysis created a portrait of the dropout crisis that led to an understanding that this was a shared problem.  Participation in the Youth Transitions Funders Group allowed for continued investments in data collection and analysis on the outcomes and characteristics of struggling students in Philadelphia, the creation and articulation of a Call to Action, based on the data, and the continued support from the Mayor’s Office and the School District.  Bogoni closed out her presentation by recommending that federal and state policymakers encourage the development of local and regional capacity to support dropout re-engagement, promote data collection and analysis on dropouts and near dropouts, and support local and regional efforts to innovate.

Ernest Dorsey, Youth Opportunity Grant Project Director for the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development in Baltimore, MD, continued the discussion on alternative pathways to education for disconnected youth by highlighting the history and current work of YO! Baltimore, Baltimore’s Youth Opportunity System, a comprehensive youth development program for the City’s out-of-school youth.  Currently, YO! Baltimore is funded by the Mayor and City Council and annually serves 1,000 out-of-school youth at two youth centers on the east and west sides of the city.  Dorsey explained that YO! Baltimore began as a conversation between the Mayor’s Office and multiple agencies on how best to address the needs of disconnected youth.  Today, YO! Baltimore serves as Baltimore City’s strategy for working with disconnected youth.  YO! Baltimore began to take shape in June 2000, when the U.S. Department of Labor awarded Baltimore City a $44 million grant over a six-year period to establish a holistic, youth development approach to serve the most at-risk youth in the city’s economically distressed Empowerment Zone.  The city understood that it could not do this work alone and took deliberate steps to include multiple partners in the creation and implementation of the Youth Opportunity system.These partners included the Baltimore City Public Schools, the city’s juvenile justice agency, and local and national foundations and non-profits.  With the Department of Labor grant money, YO! Baltimore created two large youth centers and three satellite, community-based centers, equipped with the capacity to assess the developmental levels of participants in order to target interventions to meet student needs.  The centers also provide caring, trained adult advocates, academic remediation, life and job readiness training, cultural enrichment activities, and career explorations.  Due to the flexible nature of the funding, YO! Baltimore was also able to pay for mental health, substance abuse counseling, and health services on-site.   Dorsey added that YO! Baltimore was committed to using a holistic approach to meet the needs of the youth, and often reached out to the youth themselves to solicit feedback on services.

In an effort to assess the results of the initiative, YO! Baltimore implemented a comparison group study that met the guidelines of the Department of Labor for youth participation.  The study compared youth who were enrolled and participated weekly in the programs, with youth who were enrolled, but did not participate regularly.  The high-participatory youth had reduced teen pregnancy and recidivism rates as well as increased wages and academic attainment.  In addition to the data from the comparison study, YO! Baltimore also reported on the personal success stories of the youth, both of which can be found in Changing Minds Changing Lives Report.  Today, YO! Baltimore continues to advocate for disconnected youth as a member of the Communities Collaborating to Reconnect Youth (CCRY Network), a group of youth opportunity providers who share best practices, resource information, and build public awareness of the need to support at-risk out-of-school youth.  YO! Baltimore continually relies on data to illustrate program results and garner support from prospective funders.  YO! Baltimore also continues its commitment to serve disconnected youth with an expanded youthdevelopment model and currently has the capacity to serve all of Baltimore’s out-of-school youth aged to 16 to 22. Through partnerships, YO! Baltimore has effectively increased targeted support for foster care youth and youth in detention.


Andrew O. Moore, Senior Fellow at the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families was called upon to provide an “up in the air” perspective on the current political climate along with policy recommendations for cities, states, and social serving entities that seek to leverage resources to create alternative pathways to education and employment training for disconnected youth.  Moore acknowledged the state and local fiscal crisis situation will continue for some time, proving very difficult for local and state entities to match federal investments in disconnected youth.  Additionally, the devastatingly high unemployment rates create a very limited job market for youth seeking employment.  Moore emphasized an overall lack of powerful concepts to drive policy in this area forward, particularly since previous policy efforts have overemphasized prevention and enforcement without much consideration of intervention. .  Moore encouraged all cities wishing to tackle the dropout problem to understand the issue as a community problem that must be solved with leadership from all sectors.

Moore advocated for the creation of early warning systems that integrate education data and data from other social service providers, such as the foster care and juvenile justice systems.  In addition, Moore stated every city needs a means to engage parents and stakeholders to set high expectations for all youth, efforts to transform struggling high schools, and a flexible portfolio of quality options offering rigor, relevance, relationships, and a focus on the future. Moore explained that promising local initiatives and policies continually see leaders setting and following through on aspirational goals, as well as tangible cross-system collaboration efforts, and a local assessment of need followed by an expansion of services. Moore advocated that job creation funding be directed to local governments, such as a modified Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) formula in partnerships with local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs).  Moore also called for the authorization of policy measures that provide multiple pathways to high school and postsecondary graduation as well as reciprocity programs that link job incentives to staying in school. Moore cited the Youth Promise Act as a example of needed comprehensive planning and the Chafee Act as a example of bridge programs for youth transitioning out of foster care.  Moore closed out his presentation by sharing a series of online resources for those interested in pursuing additional information on leveraging resources to support alternative pathways to education for disconnected youth, all availbale online at www.nlc.org/iyef.


Highlights from Question & Answer Portion


Jennifer Brown Lerner, Senior Program Director at AYPF, opened the discussion up for questions and answers by asking the forum presenters to address how the ARRA stimulus funding has or has not affected their programming.  Bogini explained that in order to determine the most effective way to use the ARRA funding, PYN mapped out the current array of services offered to out-of-school and disconnected youth in an effort to identify the gaps in theservices, and then used the ARRA funding to fund three areas that weren’t being resourced:  a GED to College program, which links GED students to post-secondary institutions; a centralized job development system, which will support the youth taking part in out-of-school youth training programs funded by WIA and ARRA; and an occupational skills program in the green jobs arena, which offers a number of green jobs for youth with minimum work experience.  Dorsey explained that ARRA funding allowed YO! Baltimore to extend their program registration to youth up to age 24.  Those young people were able to be teen leaders in the youth centers, and were then connected to adult one stop service centers.

In response to a question on how the federal government could encourage cross-systems collaboration, Bogoni suggested the federal government think critically about how the local level will blend funding streams and what the role of each federal agency should be in the intended results.  Bogoni also called for the federal government to create a shared vision across the agencies on how their dollars can be used to leverage resources at the local level.  Dorsey encouraged the federal government to incentivize collaboration and be clear about who should be at the table and the outcomes they are looking for.  Dorsey also suggested the federal government do a thorough scan of organizations in the field successfully working with disconnected youth to determine organization capable of providing technical service in the field.

Jennifer Brown Lerner reiterated the need of the federal government to leverage resources to allow those already doing this work to continue to do so.

In response to a question from the audience on services for homeless youth, Bogoni and Dorsey both stated a need for their respective organizations to better understand their unique issues and to increase programming and services targetted towards homeless youth.  Moore added that in cities where data on homeless youth is available, conversations on how to best serve the youth follow.

In response to an inquiry regarding the importance of the caring adult model in the work of PYN and YO! Baltimore, both Bogoni and Dorsey highlighted the importance of caring adults in the lives of youth.  Bogoni in particular mentioned interest in implementing an organic supportive adult model, which would provide resources to adults already in the lives of disconnected youth, rather than always trying to connect disconnected youth to adult mentors who are not already a part of their community.

A question was raised on the need to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in order to prevent it from penalizing alternative schools, whose central role is to reconnect disconnected youth to education.  Bogoni noted that the Graduation Promise Act seeks to calculate graduation rates in such a manner that honors the role of alternative schools within a district to reconnect youth to education and urged support of the Act.



Jenny Bogoni is currently the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN).  Her work is centered managing citywide collaboratives that work to increase and align resources to better ensure the future success of Philadelphia’s young people.  The largest of these collaboratives – the Philadelphia Council on College and Career Success (Philadelphia’s youth council) – is focused on increasing the high school graduation rate and baccalaureate attainment rate of Philadelphia’s youth.  Specifically, the Council manages and invests Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) funds, aligns the resources of citywide systems, and advocates for increased resources and policy changes that support the workforce development and education needs of the city’s young people.  In addition, she directs Project U-Turn – a collaborative comprised of representatives from the City’s major public systems and youth advocacy and support organizations that has been working together since late 2004 on a multi-pronged approach to enhance learning opportunities for Philadelphia’s struggling students and out-of-school youth. To date, the Project U-Turn campaign has increased the number of high quality alternative education opportunities to nearly 5,000 and leveraged more than $73 million dollars towards its work plan.

Prior to joining the Philadelphia Youth Network, Jenny was the Executive Director of the After School Activities Partnerships – an organization dedicated to increasing the number of after school enrichment activities offered for youth in Philadelphia.  She was also one of the founding Directors of City Year Greater Philadelphia which has become the leading City Year program in the country.

A graduate of Haverford College with a degree in the Growth and Structure of Cities, Jenny’s foundational professional experiences took place as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  From 1990 – 1993 Jenny served as an education volunteer in Gabon (Central Africa). She taught English and developed curricula for a middle school as well as trained other volunteers in cross cultural and teaching skills.  In addition, she ran a scholarship program for to help keep Gabonese girls in school.


Ernest F. Dorsey has been involved in the workforce development arena for the past thirty years, serving as administrator and manager of the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development citywide, federally funded youth employment and training programs.  Currently, he is the Division Director for the Youth Opportunity System which is funded by the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City – one-stop-shops for out of school youth. Additionally, he is providing oversight for Baltimore’s FUTURES – dropout prevention program in partnership with the city’s school system. This position has carried the responsibility of extensive planning, program development, implementation and monitoring program outcomes and staff performance.   Previously, Ernest managed the city summer programs encompassing major employment; nutrition and summer transportation initiatives and the employer outreach (“Employ Baltimore”) unit, which provided customized services to the business community to meet their workforce needs. His experience has given him a wider view of both the job seeker and employer needs to determine the kind of strategies that must be put in place to better prepare out of school youth for today’s market place.


Andrew O. Moore is a Senior Fellow with the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families, a foundation-funded “action tank” that helps  municipal leaders take action on behalf of the children, youth, and families in their communities.  Moore’s current roles with the Institute include: supporting cities that mount public engagement strategies to address the dropout crisis; providing policy leadership for the nationwide Alternative High School Initiative, with a focus on efforts now underway in the cities of Indianapolis, Nashville, and Newark to expand options and alternatives for high school; assisting 13 California cities with implementation of comprehensive gang violence reduction plans; helping launch a new project to strengthen multi-sided partnerships for postsecondary success among low-income young adults, involving city governments, community colleges, and business and community leaders; and providing technical assistance to cities with a commitment to re-engaging disconnected youth in employment, education, and civic life.

Earlier, Moore spent 15 years building the nationwide network of service and conservation corps and the AmeriCorps national service program, including the 1988 launch of the New York State Conservation Corps.  From 2003-2007, Moore consulted on strategic program development with the National League of Cities’ YEF Institute and other clients in the youth development field in the U.S. and United Kingdom.

In 2000-2001, Moore was one of eight mid-career executives selected as an Atlantic Fellow in Public Policy in the United Kingdom.  Moore holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University.


  • Presentation from Jenny Bogoni, Philadelphia Youth Network
  • Presentation from Ernest Dorsey, Baltimore’s Mayor’s Office of Employment Development
  • Presentation from Andrew Moore, National League of Cities, Institute for Youth, Education & Families




The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.