Fighting Poverty with Passion
New Orleans is a city unlike any other. Any visitor – whether they’re here for a weekend; a service trip; or four years of college can attest to this fact. New Orleans is incomparable: its food, music, history. In what other city is there such a pervasive and encouraged sense of hedonism? In other words, that feeling of “anything goes” that intoxicates every visitor upon landing at MSY. However, New Orleans is also unparalleled in its challenges; especially those associated with its public education system. It sometimes feels like this “anything goes” mentality extends to New Orleans’ schools. Each and every school differs in their disciplinary and enrollment policies; services and supports available for students and parents; and unfortunately, in the quality of instruction. There is simply no centralized governing body for public schools.
The Cowen Institute’s State of Public Education in New Orleans: 2013 Report sums up the fundamental complication of the charter school system’s decentralization: “Nearly all the schools are autonomous decision-makers on key matters related to educating the young people who choose their schools” (3). As a Northerner who grew up attending a public school in a fairly simply-designed school system, at times this inconsistency feels unbelievable.
I recently attended a panel discussion that veered into a dialogue about New Orleans schools’ varying disciplinary policies. Audience members voiced dissatisfaction at the handling of mental health and behavioral issues that rather than being resolved, were grounds for suspension, expulsion or worse: a catapult into the juvenile justice system. It seemed like the resounding question for parents was: “Where do we go for help?” or for physicians, social workers, or counselors: “Where do we tell parents to go? If the school doesn’t offer these services (for mental health problems or otherwise), does that mean it doesn’t exist? Is there a list somewhere of what does exist?
None of these questions are new. The need for a “catalogue” of youth services and providers has been existent since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And in 2013, PYD decided to address this need by drafting a city-wide blueprint. This working document was originally referred to as the Youth Master Plan (YMP). But from the beginning, the purpose of this document was to do more than merely map out on paper what youth services were available to the public. As the backbone organization behind YMP, the Partnership wanted to align all of the different youth-serving entities in the city to harness the power of collective action.
PYD recently rebranded the Youth Master Plan as YouthShift, the name that will be used to refer to this effort moving forward. This is a name that more aptly reflects the fact that this effort lives both on and off paper. Yes, it will ultimately be a “catalogue” of youth services but more importantly, it will be an ongoing collaborative effort between youth serving systems. It will be a shared vision of what city leaders, non-profits, parents, residents (with input from youth themselves) want for the young people of the city and how we can get there, together. Ultimately, “YouthShift offers an opportunity to affirm a shared vision for the future, an assessment of current resources and needs, and a roadmap for moving forward in a way that ensures accountability and sustainability for effective youth serving system” (YouthShift Blueprint, 5).
*You can access the YouthShift Blueprint on PYD’s website, http://www.nolayouth.org. Be sure to sign up for PYD’s newsletter for ongoing updates.