Helping every young person thrive in our fast-changing economy

Jul 18, 2017   |   Guest post

The following is a guest post by Gerald Chertavian, Founder and CEO of Year Up, Jim Clark, President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and Michael Brown, CEO of City Year

The United States economy is experiencing an historic shift that will impact every young person as they proceed through their education and prepare to enter the job market. The economy continues to show significant demand for workers with technical skills and education beyond high school, while the number of jobs — especially those paying a family wage — requiring no education beyond high school are declining.

Our organizations, Year Up, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and City Year, serve large numbers of young people who often need additional support to complete high school on time, prepared for college or career. We’re committed to ensuring every young person is prepared to fulfill their highest potential, and that they have access to the economic opportunities they need to ensure lifelong upward mobility. We’re going to tell you some of the things we’re doing to respond and how you can help. But first a little background.

According to Code.org, the computing sector is the No. 1 source of new wages in the United States. Students need rigorous computer science education to access these great jobs, yet according to Gallup, 60 percent of schools offer no computer science classes. Some families can afford to fill that gap by signing up for extracurricular programs. However, too many students face barriers to access — particularly students from low-income communities or those who face adverse life events. This is especially unfortunate when you consider what we’ve seen: that teaching computer science is a dynamic way to get students excited about learning. It engages their natural curiosities and motivates them to learn, which is key to keeping them on track for graduation and for success beyond high school.

These are just a few of the reasons our organizations have made computer science education a fundamental element of what we offer through our out-of-school programs across the country, from Seattle, Washington, to Ozark, Alabama, to Washington, D.C., and beyond. It’s why we’ve put in place new programs and forged innovative partnerships with Microsoft and others to implement computer science education, with the eventual goal of reaching every young person we serve.

Year Up works to close the opportunity divide — the gap between millions of unfilled jobs and millions of motivated, talented young people — by providing in-demand technical and professional skills training. Young people sign up to learn these skills over six months, and then practice those skills at our partner companies while receiving a helpful stipend for the full year. Microsoft supports Year Up with direct funding and by placing dozens of our students at the company each year, for six months at a time, to continue their professional growth. This time at Microsoft provides real-world learning experiences and allows our students to gain new contacts within the technology industry.

Photo of three smiling girls having an animated chat while working at a computer
The Boys and Girls Club in Bellevue, Washington, uses the Microsoft cloud to modernize their nonprofit organization.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America combines expertise in youth programming with Microsoft’s deep knowledge of computer science to establish effective computer science programs through a newly developed Computer Science Pathway. This program takes members on a journey to learn computer science based on their interests over time. Staff often hear comments such as, “I didn’t think this would be so interesting,” or “I learned that computers aren’t just for boys.” Club members come away with a new understanding of their career options, and they overwhelmingly want to do more and learn more about computer science in their club.

Photo of two instructors working with children seated at a table, one of them eagerly raising his hand
City Year AmeriCorps members work with students at a Philadelphia school. (Photo by Elliot Haney)

Through work in high-need schools, City Year seeks to significantly increase the number of students graduating from high school ready for success in college, career and life by placing  teams of full-time AmeriCorps members as near-peer tutors, mentors and role models. In partnership with Microsoft, City Year has developed an innovative model to deliver computer science learning through after-school programming, with the ultimate goal of providing engaging computer science education to more than 200,000 high-need students in 300 schools. In addition, City Year worked with Microsoft last December to expand participation in the Hour of Code to over 40 schools, engaging 3,100 more students in exciting pathways to careers in technology and computer science. Through these programs, City Year AmeriCorps members have seen students who normally struggle in class light up during after-school computer science classes, and become more engaged in school overall.

Together, we’re inspiring young people to pursue careers in tech, and giving them some of the training they will need but wouldn’t otherwise receive. But this challenge is significant. We can’t do it on our own, and we need your help. Here are four things you can do:

  • First, support our work. We could not do what we do without the generous financial, in-kind and volunteer support of individuals, each and every day.
  • Second, please tell your elected leaders that it’s more important than ever for government at all levels — city, county, state and federal — to invest in nonprofits preparing the next generation for success in careers and in life. As demands on new workers continue to change, and blockers to economic mobility grow, our organizations need continuous, uninterupted and reliable support to meet the growing needs of the youth we serve.
  • Third, demand computer science education at your school, in your city, state and across the country — help us make sure every young person gets access to these critical skills for success in their future.
  • And finally, if you work in the private sector, please encourage your company to explore how employees can lend their expertise to supporting local schools and students, or to support organizations like ours, which are working to ensure all young people thrive.

We’re grateful to Microsoft and the many other companies that provide the valuable support we need to carry out our missions. Yet there is so much more to do. Together, we can ensure every young person has what they need to succeed.

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Lead photo: Year Up students engage in on-the-job training.

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