The Opportunity Youth Network Announces Comprehensive Strategy to Support Newark’s Most Disconnected Youth

The City of Newark, Newark Public Schools, Rutgers University-Newark and Community-Based Organizations partner to open a Reengagement Center to serve as hub for students who have dropped out of high school

[Newark, NJ - November 3, 2016] The Opportunity Youth Network (OYN), a partnership that consists of the City of Newark, Newark Public Schools (NPS), Rutgers University-Newark and several community-based organizations, today announced a comprehensive strategy to improve outcomes for the city’s most disconnected youth. As the first step of this strategy, OYN will open a Reengagement Center (REC) that places out-of-school youth into city programs and serves as a hub for all disengaged students in Newark.

The term “opportunity youth” is a phrase used nationally to describe young people between the ages of 16 to 24 – who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market. Despite rising graduation rates in recent years, there are approximately 7,000 disengaged and out-of-school youth in the City of Newark.

“This partnership is an important step for our city,” Said Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “The Opportunity Youth Network is already a key partner in our Street Academy and South Ward Community Schools. We know that here in Newark, too many of our young people disconnect from school or jobs, and then get overlooked by our traditional support systems. The Opportunity Youth Network Reengagement Center will provide us with a unified strategy to support these young people, and help us harness their untapped potential to lead more successful and fulfilling lives.”

The OYN has developed a comprehensive strategy to ensure the broad network of programs available throughout Newark are effectively working together to reengage youth. The core goals of this strategy include:

  1. Opening a Reengagement Center (REC) to serve as a hub for opportunity youth: OYN will open a youth reengagement center to help place all returning out-of-school youth in schools and programs – and serve as a hub for all suspensions, transfers and placement of significantly disengaged students.
  2. Expanding and better coordinating alternative education options: This partnership will expand and coordinate a portfolio of alternative education and workforce development programs across Newark – including community-based organization (CBO) programs, NPS Transfer Schools, and an alternative education charter school.
  3. Bringing together community leaders to improve policy: This partnership will convene key community leaders and OYN partners to focus on youth-related issues to improve policies.
  4. Enhancing data sharing between organizations: The coordination of these groups will help improve data sharing and coordination of services between systems and organizations that serve the city’s young people.
  5. Collecting feedback from youth on their needs: OYN will also establish formal mechanisms to gather feedback from young people to improve city education and employment services.

“We define our mission as not only providing a quality education to the 35,000 young people that currently attend NPS, but also to all other Newark children – including those who have dropped out,” said Superintendent Christopher D. Cerf of NPS. “While there are many programs across the city that support this population, these programs lack the coordination and focus needed to be effective. The Opportunity Youth Network will help solve that problem, and help us fulfill our mission of providing these young people with the education they need to be successful.”

The REC will serve as a one-stop-shop for disconnected youth looking for reenrollment and transfer services. The staff there, a combination of OYN, NPS, and Newark City employees, will conduct an academic and social assessment in order to determine the best school placement for each student. REC staff will then ensure that all students are matched to a school or program that meets their academic, social-emotional and professional needs. Once placed, The REC will follow the student throughout their transition into their new school or program for a period of 90 days.

“We are strongly committed to the initiative because it builds and strengthens the school to college to career continuum for these youth,” noted Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University Newark. “Moreover, it will enable the university to learn how to more effectively meet the challenges and maximize the assets that opportunity youth bring to the college classroom while expanding the efforts of the Newark City of Learning Collaborative to broaden and strengthen the college pipeline.

The OYN framework is based upon proven youth development principles and evidence-based practices previously used by YouthBuild Newark, a youth and community development agency that has served Greater Newark’s disconnected youth for over 12 years. OYN is working with six partners to expand the current offerings available to this population across the city. These organizations include: La Casa De Don Pedro, Urban League of Essex County, New Community Corporation and Rutgers TEEM Gateway, Mayor Baraka’s Street Academy and Leaders for Life.

“I’ve spent my entire career working with young people who are disengaged from our traditional systems,” added Robert Clark, Founding Executive Director of YouthBuild Newark, and lead visionary for OYN. “I think what makes this moment unique in Newark is that we are recognizing the assets these young men and women can be for our city and working with partner organizations to build capacity across the city so that we can take a more comprehensive and coordinated approach than ever before to tackle this challenge.”

Each organization will become a full service provider for up to 50 students in both high school equivalency and workforce development programming – each with their own unique offerings. These offerings will supplement the two alternative education high schools at NPS, Newark Leadership Academy and Fast Track Success Academy. In addition, Mayor Baraka’s Street Academy – a new program created to reengage disconnected youth through social-emotional learning, civic proficiency, community outreach and volunteerism – will help connect OYN staff with disengaged youth.

“We are already seeing the benefits a partnership of this magnitude can have for our young people,” Ray Ocasio, the Executive Director of La Case De Don Pedro shared. “This collaboration not only will help us serve more students, but will also help us better prepare these young people for success by matching the services we provide with their needs.”

“Newark stands out for the scale and comprehensiveness of its approach,” noted Lili Allen, Associate Director, Reconnection Strategies and Designs, Jobs for the Future. “Notably, Newark's approach starts with a reengagement center that leads to individual academic plans to support placement of youth into education and workforce programming, an extensive data system to track progress and inform practice and policy, and a scale strategy that includes a charter school designed specifically to serve the opportunity youth population. All of this is supported by a robust cross-sector collaborative focused on policy changes to address challenges youth face inside and outside their communities and supports pathways to academic attainment and economic security for opportunity youth.”

About the Opportunity Youth Network
The Opportunity Youth Network (OYN) is a public-private partnership initiative dedicated to providing educational and support services to Newark’s most vulnerable youth. In December 2015, the City of Newark, Newark Public Schools, Rutgers University-Newark, the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, the Prudential Foundation, the Victoria Foundation, and the Community Foundation of New Jersey partnered to form OYN to address Newark’s disengagement crisis and establish a network of campuses and programs led by local community based organizations (CBOs) to provide educational, social and job training services throughout the city. The OYN believes that by investing in our young people’s education, the city’s workforce will be strengthened, the rate of dropouts will decrease, and the lives of thousands of school-aged youth will be set on a trajectory for success.