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Partnerships and Building Relationships / Program Design, Development, and Quality

The Elephant in the Room

The Other Wes Moore

If you’re reading this; that means you are involved with or care about the world of expanded learning time.

I’m going to start this blog with a generalization. Ordinarily that’s not the best idea, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

Your mission is not to give extra help to the kids who are doing fine. You’re not involved with expanded learning because you want to provide more access and opportunity to those young people who are already clearly on track for success.

You’re in this work because you recognize that in the context of our current society, the “school-day only” model of public education doesn’t work for tens of millions of children, most of whom are from low-income families. Those children are why you’re here. That’s why I’m here too.

Right now there are an estimated 23.5 million kids living in poverty in the United States.

There are millions more in families living slightly above the poverty line. All the research – and our common sense – tells us that expanded learning time can give these kids a boost.

But there are a lot of elephants in this room, and here’s one.

It’s not just about time. It’s about environment.

expanded learning youth environment


My organization, the Partnership for Children & Youth, is headquartered in Oakland, California. A district official once told me that around half of Oakland’s truancies came from children living in affordable housing. Oakland’s poverty rate sits at about 20%. (It’s not the highest rate in the country, but we’re in the top 100.) And only a fraction of those residents live in affordable housing.

This small percentage of kids make up half of the district’s truancies.

The promise of affordable housing is to provide pathways out of poverty. And obviously this starts with putting a roof over the heads of families that need one, and providing them with some stability. But that alone doesn’t work.

When we think about pathways out of poverty, the stories that immediately jump to mind are the one-in-a-million talents; the brilliant artists, the gifted athletes, the poetic or scientific or literary geniuses. Maybe throw in an occasional lottery winner, or a spunky orphan who gets taken in by an eccentric billionaire while telling us through song that the sun’ll come out tomorrow.

These are not reliable pathways.

Statistics show us that right now, about one-in-ten kids from low-income families go on to graduate from college.

We say that education is the MOST reliable pathway out of poverty. It’s still not terribly reliable (would you want a car that only started one out of every ten days?) but it’s better than one-in-a-million. So how do we make that pathway more reliable? How do we bring it to the kids who – statistics show – need it the most?

In other words, how do we embed education into the environment of affordable housing?

That’s the puzzle our network is working to solve.

HousEd (The California Network for Expanded Learning in Affordable Housing) is convening housing providers, educators, youth development experts, technical assistance providers, and a whole host of other stakeholders in order to figure out how to do this.

I invite you to take a few minutes and watch the story of one child, Anthony Rodriguez, living in one of the communities we work with closely – and see how his housing community’s expanded learning program has given him the confidence he needed to be excited about learning and express himself in a positive way. Anthony’s success doesn’t just affect him. All of his friends and neighbors – and especially his own brother and sister – can now see, firsthand, how education can make a difference.

Education is part of their environment.

Educators and affordable housing providers have the same goals, share the same neighborhoods, and share the challenge of meeting the needs of often the exact same students. We can do it if we work together.

Before you head to the BOOST Conference, I invite you to consider where your kids live. If they’re in affordable housing or public housing, what are the special situations and opportunities they encounter? There may be a partnership waiting to happen between your program and Resident Services Directors. They can connect you with families, siblings and other support services in the housing development, while you offer a much-needed link to their young residents’ school experience. And all of these connections will give you more leverage to help your kids succeed in school and move along their pathway out of poverty.

For breakfast I had, southern style grits, biscuits, gravy, and scrambled eggs with cheese. 

About the Author: Jenny Hicks serves as the Senior Program Manager for HousED at the Partnership for Children and Youth.

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