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Youth Success 2017

Easing the Jump from High School to College

The transition from high school to college can be a difficult one, especially for those youth who come from low-income families or poorly resourced communities.

Across the nation, schools are struggling to ensure students leave high school prepared for higher education. Rising costs, insufficient preparation or a lack of clearly articulated pathways to careers are just a few of the culprits.

Research has shown that when students disconnect from school, their limited education can impact their future employment, earnings and health, increasing their likelihood of living in poverty. To address these challenges, United Way is equipping disadvantaged youth with the knowledge, tools and networks they need to excel throughout high school. And it’s working.

Just ask Kayla, a senior at Middletown High School in Middletown, Ohio, who was helped by United Way of Greater Cincinnati. Thanks to the Middletown High School Speed Mentoring Program, which was piloted by United Way and the Middletown High School Future Center in  February, preparing for college became a lot easier for Kayla and her colleagues.

“I really liked speed-mentoring. It gave me way more confidence,” said Kayla, who was one of nearly 60 participants in the program. “I liked talking to different people in my community. They gave me great feedback on what I could do with my future.”

In central Indiana, students are receiving similar value. Project Ready, an Indianapolis Urban League program, is helping high school students be more academically, socially and culturally prepared for the next step in their academic journey. The year-long program, which is supported by United Way of Central Indiana, prepares students for college through a set curriculum and personalized academic plan, and focuses on such disciplines as economics, business and community development.

Chelsea, a student at George Washington High School in Indianapolis, expressed her gratitude for the program: “Project Ready helped me gain the confidence and courage to be myself. It helped me find the potential I never knew I had.” Across the world, United Way is committed to youth success.

Driving Youth Success Through Digital Literacy

Teaching youth about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is an important step toward helping them define their career pathways. These fields are expected to grow exponentially, requiring more young adults to learn related skills for employment. Enter United Way.

Education breeds opportunity. At the beginning of the school year, seventh- and eighth-graders in Orange County, California, were treated to after school STEM enrichment, thanks to Orange County United Way. United Way and BrainStorm, a science and math academy, teamed up to provide additional STEM learning for students at select district schools. With funding from Chevron, the programming has expanded to include more intermediate schools, resulting in improved academic performance.

In Pennsylvania, United Way of Bucks County held a #girlsSTEM Conference, with support from PECO, Comcast, Wegman’s, Dow and other partners. More than 800 girls (from grades 6–10) and 40 volunteers united for a day of learning. Offering three sessions led by women leaders in STEM industries, the conference ensured every girl—regardless of income or background—had access to STEM education. And it worked: 94 percent of the attendees decided to take more STEM courses in high school, 78 percent decided to declare a STEM major in college and 80 percent decided to pursue a STEM-related career.

In celebration of World Literacy Day, United Way Ghana held a training seminar in Nima for 300+ students from lower- and upper-basic schools  in the Ayawaso East district. The event taught students skills they could use in school and the workforce, from how to find information online using search engines to using computer applications for learning. During the technology exercises—which forms a part of United Way’s Improving Basic Education program—students were trained by volunteers from Achievers Ghana, Open Foundation West Africa, IBM and other organizations.

After the training, 12-year-old Sekina expressed renewed interest in the digital world: “I have picked up some tips on using Google to search topics for my assignments. It has been very beneficial to me.” From California to Ghana, United Way is investing in the future of today’s youth.

Driving Youth Success Through Digital Literacy

In southwest Virginia, there is a gap between learning and work. According to the Virginia Department of Education, less than half of high school graduates go on to technical training, two-year or four-year higher education, or the military. Research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation states that in 2015, 3,000+ local youth (ages 16–19) weren’t in school or working. And based on employer feedback, the region is experiencing a workforce shortage and cannot fill open positions.

Alongside community partners, United Way of Southwest Virginia is addressing this issue by creating opportunities for youth who are ready to enter the workforce. Through its Ignite Program, which was created to fill a community void in response to the gap, youth get to experience hands-on learning and increase their career awareness. The initiative serves 29,000+ students in 86 schools across 16 school districts—every middle school and high school in United Way’s service area.

Learning components include soft-skills curriculum, financial simulations, and soon, pilot internships through a summer youth work program. Web-based career software sessions, teacher-led tours of employers and a Careers Expo for Youth are also provided. This year’s Expo hosted 4,000+ seventh-graders from 46 schools, with participants receiving preparation for state-required career assessments and experiencing 75+ activities in 16 career paths. Students used 3D printers, conducted chemistry experiments and practiced CPR, among other activities.

Participants like Candace had fun while also getting a better view into the careers available locally: “In the classroom, they can tell you a lot of things. But when you get out there and do hands-on activities, it’s like a day off, only you’re still learning.” Through the Ignite Program and other initiatives, United Way is helping youth get a head start in the workforce.