From Poverty To Opportunity Symposium: Retaining and Engaging High School-Aged Youth in Afterschool Programs

By: Catherine Barreda

From Poverty to Opportunity Symposium Series box Part 2Panelists:

Moderator: Deborah N. Archer, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, New York Law School

NYLS Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Impact Center for Public Interest Law Co-Director Deborah N. Archer moderated a panel at the “From Poverty to Opportunity” Symposium titled “Retaining and Engaging High School-Aged Youth In Afterschool Programs.” Dean Archer introduced the panel, and the importance of afterschool programs serving as an intervening tool to keep youth engaged in school and to prevent young people from engaging in risky behavior especially during the hours of 3pm-6pm. The objective of this panel was to discuss how the different techniques used by various organizations throughout New York City have proved to be successful at engaging high school-aged young people through fun and innovative afterschool programs. The panel included staff members from several New York City organizations that provide afterschool programs. Each panelist discussed the services provided at his or her organization, and how those services benefit and motivate young people. Please see the summaries below for a description of the key ideas that were shared by each of the panelists.


Lea KixMiller, Program Supervisor, Center for Family Life in Sunset Park (“CFL”), SCO Family Services

Lea KixMiller attributed CFL’s success with teens to both a “diverse and committed staff,” and to the “ladder to leadership” approach taken by the organization. KixMiller, along with the other panelists, stressed the importance and value of staff members dedicated to the work of empowering young people in underserved communities. Sharing her own experience, KixMiller explained how her love of sports provided a common ground to connect with the teens she works with at CFL. CFL practices the “ladder to leadership” approach, which KixMiller described as both incentivizing and empowering for young people. As part of this approach, CFL provides opportunities for teens to participate in a Counselor In-Training Program (“CIT”), where teens are trained to work with their peers, during various activities at CFL. The CITs are given the unique ability to engage in a process of mutual aid with a group of teens, where the CITs are both providing and receiving support at the same time. Additionally, at CFL all teens are required to receive academic tutoring, regardless of GPA. KixMiller explained the importance of engaging all teens and not singling out any one individual based on grades in order to include and incorporate all participants at all times.


Steve Ausbury, Deputy Director, Brooklyn College Community Partnership (“BCCP”)

 Steve Ausbury described how BCCP’s location, format, and focus all work together to ensure success with teens. BCCP is located within the Psychology Department at Brooklyn College, which allows for the teens who are participating in this after school program to visit a college campus, and also to experience a college environment.  Ausbury discussed how the drop-in format of the program allows for “any student to show up and hang out.” This is a great way for teens to feel that the decision to be at BCCP is a choice they made for themselves. Lastly, BCCP focuses on youth development and building meaningful relationships with teens. Ausbury credits the fact that BCCP staff is often made up of Brooklyn College students who took a course in Activism as one aspect contributing to the program’s success. In order to increase engagement, Ausbury listed the various activities BCCP participants are exposed to including, but not limited to: visiting colleges; trips into the city to see parks, businesses, and museums; job preparation and skills; and, “maker labs” (where kids can use their hands to make things).


Daniel Carlton, Teaching Artist at Healing Arts Initiative (“HAI”)

Daniel Carlton spoke passionately about how the arts are capable of captivating the interests and minds of many hard-to-reach teens. Carlton described HAI’s mission to build art in underserved areas as a creative and innovative method of connecting teens with their community. As a Teaching Artist, Carlton explained how his work at Frederick Douglass High School in Harlem allows the teens he works with to create an interest in their own communities by using their voices, hands, and hearts in the activities he teaches. The offerings that are made available through HAI include, but are not limited to: academic tutoring; self-inventory assignments; job preparation/training; credit recovery; arts/performance; trips to cultural organizations/events; working with school personnel and parents to build lasting relationships with the teens; and providing internships for teens within cultural institutions (particularly in Harlem, where all of the facilitators are also artists).


Flutra Gorana, Program Director, Opportunities For a Better Tomorrow

Speaking for Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow (“OBT”), Flutra Gorana explained how OBT deals mainly with teens who dropped out of high school and are seeking a GED. OBT offers teens a full day’s schedule and requires teens to sign a contract that carries responsibilities after the teen completes the program. Included in the schedule are traditional classes (e.g., English, History, etc.); service learning (giving back to the community); professional development (some program funders meet with the teens to discuss what their world looks like); field trips into the city; essay contests on various topics; public speaking classes and debate; and, an employee-of-the-month program. The goal is for teens to leave OBT with a diploma, and as part of their contract teens continue to meet at OBT every third Thursday of the month for a year to eat dinner with fellow participants to discuss work and/or college life. Gorana smiled as she shared stories about how many young people continue to meet at OBT long after their contract has expired.


Sadie Mahoney, Director of Youth Services, Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, Inc.

Sadie Mahoney discussed how Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, Inc. was started and the ways in which it has flourished. Mahoney told the story of the three neighborhood mothers who founded the community center, which is a great example of the power of community engagement. Mahoney stated how the mothers, living in the neighborhood, could see that teens were in need of a place to go in order to prevent teens from turning to mischief and crime. The mothers went to city agencies, explained the need for the Center, and Kingsbridge Heights Community Center was born.

Then, Mahoney discussed how the inclusion of teens at the Center in everyday decision-making is vital to the program’s overall success. Like the three mothers that began the Center so many years ago, Mahoney explained how none other than the teens attending the Center know more about what teens need, want, and seek from afterschool programs. The Youth Leadership Council is the teen government at the Center. Mahoney credits this group of young people as her “second staff,” and explained how the Council provides leadership opportunities for the teens and helpful suggestions in the operating of the center. Additionally, like many other organizations discussed on the panel, teens are encouraged to help each other at the Center – either through teen mediation or informal mentoring. Mahoney also mentioned how pizza dinners are hugely successful, not only because they keep teens coming, but also because it was a reliable and consistent service many neighborhood teens were previously going without.


Every panelist agreed that the best advertisement and recruitment for their programs was word of mouth practiced by the teens – a testament to the continued success of these programs. While each organization offered some form of academic tutoring, job preparation/skills, and peer mediation/mentoring – each organization also included some unique trait, whether it was the group it targets (OBT focuses on high school drop outs) or teens in need of a creative outlet (HAI).