Fighting Poverty with Passion
I am extremely fortunate to have a VISTA placement at the Cowen Institute because I am constantly learning new things about education reform and its impact on New Orleans.
For example, we recently released a study on the causes of high school disconnection. I even wrote the executive summary! We interviewed school leaders and non-profit service providers and found that there could be more integration between the two approaches as they work towards student success. There were debates on school discipline policies, widespread acknowledgement of the need for more mental health services, and concern about the consequences of students dropping out of school.
It was fascinating to hear directly from youth themselves about what kept them engaged and what drove them away from school. There was some harrowing testimony:
Another youth recounted her mother waking her up at night, saying her father was going to kill them. “I’m bleeding,” her mother would say, “please come on downstairs. He gonna kill us.”
With this background research on what leads youth to become opportunity youth (who are ages 16-24 and not connected to education or work), we are preparing to launch an Earn and Learn program. This will take 15 youth enrolled at Delgado Community College and provide them with paid internships in preparation for sustainable careers, wraparound social services, and career counseling.
In other news, we have a crop of new interns and fellows that started in June! There are even a couple who are teachers using their summer off to learn about education research!
I’m especially excited to work with our three Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellows! The White House is sponsoring 500 African leaders to stay in New Orleans for six weeks this summer to learn about American civic engagement, entrepreneurship, and non-profit leadership. Tulane is hosting 25 of these Fellows and 3 are placed at the Cowen Institute, from Togo, South Africa, and Nigeria.
Our policy director, Jonah, and I got to meet them this week. Over conversations about education policy and civic leadership, I was able to learn so much!
They spoke of how difficult it is to fundraise in their countries when there is not the same philanthropic tradition as there is in New Orleans – and indeed, a distrust of people who so improbably “work for no benefit to themselves.” One spoke of the importance of inculcating civic culture among youth – everything from obeying traffic signals to encouraging them to participate in government. Another was fascinated with New Orleans’ lack of a strong teacher’s union when the South African and Nigerian teacher unions are so strong that they can dictate to the government their demands or shut down universities for eight months.
We are so happy to have these three Fellows with us this summer and for Tulane Center for Public Service for giving us the opportunity to learn from them!