Section C: Ensuring Disconnected Young Men of Color Graduate From High School Ready for College and Career


A high-school diploma or credential is an essential step on a young person’s path to gainful employment and a successful future. In today’s economy, a high-school credential is no longer enough to ensure a family-sustaining wage. However, the auxiliary benefits, compared to those who do not graduate from high school, are undeniable. Young people who graduate from high school have better overall health and a longer life expectancy, are less likely to become involved with the juvenile justice system, and are more likely to vote and volunteer.

The overall national high-school graduation rate is on the rise: 82.3 percent for the 2013–2014 school year, up from 81.4 percent in 2012–2013. Even so, the academic achievement gap between young people of color and their white peers persists. National graduation rates for American- Indians/Alaskan-Natives are 69.6 percent; for African- American/blacks, 72.5 percent; and for Hispanics/Latinos, 76.3%. In contrast, the graduation rate for whites is 87.2 percent. Young people disconnect from high school for a variety of reasons. Many are outside their control, such as the compounding effects of being born in the wrong neighborhood. Other factors include:

Young people disconnect from high school for a variety of reasons. Many are outside their control, such as the compounding effects of being born in the wrong neighborhood. Other factors include:

  • Being zoned for schools with unusually high dropout rates. Some schools only graduate one or two out of every 10 students. In 2013, about 19 percent of African-American/black and 12 percent of Hispanic/Latino students attended such a school. This is compared to only 4 percent of white students.

  • Dealing with toxic stress from sustained negative exposures and severe adverse life experiences. Research shows toxic stress adversely impacts learning, as well as young people’s mental and physical development throughout their lifetime.

Even with the myriad challenges these young people face, and despite the multiple systems that have often failed them, research shows that young people who are not in school accept responsibility for their situation and continue to have high aspirations. Nonetheless, when trying to re-enter school, they face significant barriers, such as needing to earn money to take care of their families, lacking knowledge of how to return to school, and even having their attempts to return rebuffed by schools. Finding a pathway that leads to a secondary-school credential requires comprehensive services that address academic needs (for example, opportunities for dual credit, innovative teaching and learning, and small class sizes). Also needed are wraparound supports to address housing, mental health, and physical wellness; life management skills; and the compensation necessary to support their families.

As Measure of America points out, “disconnection is not a spontaneously occurring phenomenon; it is an outcome years in the making.” Serving opportunity youth requires: (1) identifying young men of color at risk for disconnection through strategies such as establishing an early warning system, effectively mentoring students, and implementing equitable discipline practices; (2) intervening with young men of color who are in the process of disconnecting from school through the development of policies that target over-age and under-credited young men of color and that incorporate trauma-informed approaches; and (3) reconnecting those who have already been pushed out or have dropped out of school by creating multiple pathways to graduation.

Supporting Boys of Color to Prevent Future Disconnection

Ensure Programs Incorporate “Elements of Success:” Rigor and Academic Support, Relationships, College Knowledge and Access, Relevance, Youth-Centered Programming, and Effective Instruction.

Success at Every Step: How 23 Programs Support Youth on the Path to College and Beyond” highlights six programmatic elements of success that promote college and career readiness based on the evaluations of 23 effective initiatives and other related research. The study finds that curricula should be challenging and taught by staff who are equipped to ensure students’ success and who create a culture of high expectations. Young men of color should have positive relationships with mentors, caring adults, and peers. Family involvement, small learning groups, and safe and supportive environments are important. In addition, they need to be exposed to college early on, and provided with project and work-based learning opportunities, comprehensive individualized social support services, and culturally and community-relevant curricula that incorporate the voice of youth similar to them.


“Teacher didn’t care, principal didn’t care ... I told my counselor and a couple teachers, but I didn’t want to because they didn’t care ... you know from the way that they come at me on a regular basis ... they don’t try to talk to me.”

- Antonio

Source: America’s Promise Alliance GradNation. (2014). Don’t Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young People Who Leave High School Before Graduation. Washington, DC: America’s Promise Alliance and Boston: Center for Promise at Tufts University.

Increase Dedicated Staff, Counselors, and Mentors Promoting the Well-Being of Young Men of Color; Invest in Teacher and Staff Professional Development; And Implement Trauma-Informed Approaches.

Young men of color should have a diverse group of caring adults who can provide positive support and guidance. Teachers, counselors, coaches, and mentors can play an important role in students’ successful and healthy development. Youth Guidance’s Becoming A Man program in Chicago creates a safe space on middle- and high-school campuses where young men of color can express themselves and receive the social and emotional supports they need. A study of the program found a reduction in violent crimes arrests and increased school engagement, performance, and graduation rates.

Efforts like community schools are viable ways to ensure students have case management and comprehensive supports from a wide range of adults and experts. Community schools bring together a range of partners, with the public school at the center, to offer an array of supports to students and their families. School site coordinators work individually with at-risk students to devise a plan to meet their needs and to monitor their progress. Learn more about community schools through the Coalition for Community Schools, as well as a recent study, “Case Management for Students at Risk of Dropping Out: Implementation and Interim Impact Findings from the Communities in Schools Evaluation,” which highlights positive impacts on student outcomes. Learn more about Trauma-Informed Approaches and Trauma-Specific Interventions by visiting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website, which highlights six key principles and provides examples of intervention models.

Field Favorites

“Students who feel that people at their school care about them and who believe that their absence from school will be noticed and missed are more likely to attend regularly. Because regular attendance is so critical to academic success, many districts have also put in place measures to help ensure that students come to school — and stay there — every day.”

– Relationships, Rigor and Readiness (MDRC)

Relationships, Rigor and Readiness Strategies for Improving High Schools by MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization dedicated to learning what works to improve programs and policies that affect the poor, highlights strategies from mid-sized districts across the nation that are cultivating an environment in which students feel interested, engaged and prepared. Below are a few strategies from the report:

  • Increase opportunities for adults and students to interact (including “stepped up” counseling, mentoring, summer orientation events or welcome events).

  • Create personalized or small learning communities.

  • Work with other agencies to address students’ social and emotional needs.

  • Implement staff and faculty advisor systems in which teachers and staff are assigned individual students, to ensure student success by intervening with any academic or family challenges.

  • Ensure curricula is rigorous and relevant.

  • Involve parents and community.

Read the full report for more information on how to help students stay the course throughout high school and how to prepare for college, recommendations for fostering high quality academic experience, suggestions for improving instructions, and tips on getting freshman year right.

Find Out How Boys and Men of Color Are Faring Academically.

The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males’ Interactive Map Dashboard includes the rates of high school graduation, Advance Placement enrollment, eighth-grade reading and math levels, and suspensions among black, Latino, and white males by state and district. The Black Male Achievement Life Outcomes Dashboard allows you to download city-level data on how black males are advancing on education-related, health, safety, work, and other indicators.

Become a Mentor, Ensure There Are Quality Mentor Programs in Your Area, and Incorporate Mentoring Into Your Education, Community, and Youth Development Programs.

According to research conducted by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, young adults who were at risk of falling off track and had a mentor were 55 percent more likely to pursue a postsecondary education than were their peers who did not have a mentor. Quality mentoring can play a significant role in addressing absenteeism and behavior problems among young adults. The positive impact of mentorship carries over into the daily lives of opportunity youth by minimizing stress and worry, and reducing drug and alcohol use. Visit MENTOR to access the tools “Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring” and “Mentoring Immigrants and Refugee Youth,” as well as webinar series and virtual trainings provided by My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and MENTOR. These utilize the “Black Male Mentoring Handbook,” “Men in Mentoring Toolkit” and “Culture and Class Conflicts in Mentoring-Mentee Matches.”

Improve School Climate and Eliminate Zero-Tolerance Policies to Help Reduce the School-To-Prison Pipeline.

The newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015—the legislation that replaces No Child Left Behind—provides an opportunity for community leaders, school district leadership, and relevant stakeholders to look at and address harsh discipline practices that minimize learning time and do not adequately address the root causes of student misbehavior. ESSA requires that accountability systems use indicators that go beyond academic achievement. These could include school climate, student engagement, and other holistic environmental conditions that support student learning. A good place to rethink current discipline practices is the Council of State Governments Justice Center’s “School Discipline Consensus Report.” The report highlights questions to consider and action steps to take to promote a culture of equity in school discipline across four key pillars: conditions for learning, targeted behavioral interventions, school-police partnerships, and courts and juvenile justice.

Learn from or join the Supportive School Discipline Communities of Practice (SSDCoP), a network of education and justice leaders across the country who share experiences, tools, and resources to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. The Dignity in Schools Campaign’s database has a wealth of research on pushout, school discipline, and positive alternatives. The campaign highlights suspensions and expulsions, school-based arrests, and high-stakes testing as three pathways to pushout.14 Take a look at the Fact Sheet on Pushout and Alternatives 2015 and Fact Sheet: Creating Positive School Discipline to learn more.


“I just didn’t like school. It wasn’t because I’m dumb. I get sick just entering the building. I feel like I’m in prison. It’s how the school was set up. They had iron bars like [the area prison]. Cuz back then [the prison] was like mad gangster, with gangbangers and whatever ... Cameras everywhere. I don’t feel safe.”

- Jeff

Source: America’s Promise Alliance GradNation. (2014). Don’t Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young People Who Leave High School Before Graduation. Washington, DC: America’s Promise Alliance and Boston: Center for Promise at Tufts University.

Implement Positive Behavior and Restorative Discipline Practices.

Restorative justice practices focus on rehabilitation through a process in which all stakeholders work together to achieve conflict resolution, instead of the current punitive systems in which misbehavior is merely punished. The Center for Justice and Reconciliation provides a wealth of information on restorative justice, including tutorials, articles, manuals, and tools to start a new program. Explore The Equity Project detailed in “Discipline Disparities: A Research-to-Practices Collaborative,” a series of briefs on interventions, policy, and research published by Indiana University. Also, take a look at the list of exemplary models of partnerships, schools, and organizations included in “Promising Approaches for Reducing Disciplinary Disparities in School.” The U.S. Department of Education’s “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline” provides tools and steps that policy and school leaders can draw on to create safer schools and positive learning environments.

Ensure That Policies and Practices Promote College and Career Readiness for All High-School Students, Including Young Men of Color with Disabilities.

Designing Statewide Career Development Strategies & Programs” is a two-part guide that provides an introduction to quality youth career development systems and functional steps to implement them. Based on recommendations offered by My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) task force, the U.S. Department of Education recently proposed a new rule in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), called the Equity in IDEA rule. The rule addresses the disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities. Districts will have to identify and give attention to inequities and disparities across races and ethnicities in special education.

Supporting Young Men of Color Who Are in the Process of Disconnecting from High School

Establish an Accurate and Timely System to Track Early Warning Signs.

Early warning systems use data such as attendance and grades to identify students who are at the highest risk of disengaging from school. In order to work, the indicators (for instance, attendance) must be accurate and timely. A designated person or entity is responsible for reconnecting young people who have been flagged by the system. The Data Quality Campaign’s primer on early warning systems includes a set of recommendations, an outline of the role of states, and a list of state-level examples. The primer’s “Early Warning System High School Implementation Guide” is an effective tool designed for school leaders.

The Dropout Risk Factors and Exemplary Programs: A Technical Report by the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network and Communities in Schools, Inc. shared results from a study to identify the significant risk factors that increase the chances that a student will drop out of school.


Individual Background Characteristics

  • Has a learning disability and/or emotional disturbance

Early Adult Responsibilities

  • High number of work hours and/or parenthood

Social Attitudes, Values, & Behavior

  • High-risk peer group, high-risk social behavior and/or highly socially active outside of school

School Performance

  • Low achievement and/or retention; over-age for grade

School Engagement

  • Poor attendance, low educational expectations, lack of effort, low commitment to school and/or no extracurricular participation

School Behavior

  • Misbehavior and/or early aggression


Family Background Characteristics

  • Low socioeconomic status, high family mobility, low education level of parents, large number of siblings, not living with both natural parents and/or family disruption

Family Engagement/Commitment to Education

  • Low educational expectations, sibling has dropped out, low contact with school and/or lack of conversations about school

The full report also includes risk factors at the school level and 50 programs that have been effective in addressing the risk factors described.

Field Favorites

Don’t Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young People Who Leave High School Before Graduation” (2014) and the follow-up report “Don’t Quit on Me: What Young People Who Left School Say About the Power of Relationships” (2015), two reports by America’s Promise Alliance and its Center for Promise at Tuft University, provide valuable information based on the voices of young people that have disconnected from high school. The reports shares what these young people have to say about why they disengaged, and the critical role that positive relationships and caring adults can play in their decisions to stay in or leave school.

Findings from the reports include:

  • Disengagement and reengagement both result from clusters of factors.

  • Young people who leave high school are often navigating toxic environments, which include: family violence and abuse; unsafe school; neighborhood violence; family health challenges; and unsupportive, unresponsive schools and policies.

  • Young people consistently seek supportive connections with others; in toxic environments, this search can lead them toward or away from school.

  • Young people who stop going to school are persistently resilient in their day-to-day lives; they are bouncing back, but need additional support to “reach up” toward positive youth development.

  • Students who leave school before graduating are stronger than popular opinion and current research literature describe. With the right supports, these strengths could allow them to stay in school, and, if they do, ultimately help many to re-engage.

  • Students who leave school before graduating are often struggling with overwhelming life circumstances that push school attendance further and further down on their priority lists.• Young people who leave high school need fewer easy exits from the classroom and more easy on-ramps back into education.

  • Young people who leave high school are telling us how much peers, parents, and other adults matter.

  • Everyone in a young person’s life and community can do something to help.

  • Too many young people are facing too many hurdles to high-school graduation with too little help.

  • Relationships matter, but their importance to graduation varies by type, source, and intensity of support.

  • Social supports from multiple sources buffer the effects of adverse life experiences for most young people. However, those facing the greatest adversity need more intensive support than family, school, and friends can provide.

Young people are more likely to graduate if they have access to a web of supportive relationships, which may include parents, adults inside and outside of school, and peers. At least one stable, anchoring relationship can act as a gateway to this wider web of support.

The reports also include: young people’s descriptions of establishing trust; direct quotes from young people themselves; recommendations at the individual, school and community levels; and a literature review of the topic.

Identify Students Who Are Chronically Absent From School, and Address Their Needs Through Strategies Such as Mentorship and Parent/Family Outreach and Engagement.

Missing classes in high school is a strong determinant of students’ future likelihood of disconnecting from school. Chronic absenteeism is generally defined as missing at least 10 percent of school days in an academic year. School and community leaders should implement strategies and systems that identify students who are chronically absent, and determine why they miss school. These students and their parents require additional supports to improve attendance and ultimately place them on a path of success. The Ad Council, MBK, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Mott Foundation are working together to launch “Absences Add Up,” a public service announcement campaign focused on educating and empowering parents by providing them with information on chronic absenteeism and its effects. A program launched by MBK, the U.S. Department of Education, and John Hopkins University is the MBK Success Mentors Initiative, which uses an evidence-based mentoring model at scale to reduce chronic absenteeism by connecting students with mentors. The initiative aims to reach over one million students in kindergarten through 12th grade over the next three to five years. Become a mentor and get connected to local My Brother’s Keeper efforts on To learn more about the campaign and the MBK Success Mentors Initiative, view this fact sheet.

Identify, Target, and Design Systems for Over-Age and Under-Credited Youth Who Are Likely to Fall off Track Before Earning Their Diploma.

School leaders should establish multiple pathways that allow over-age and under-credited youth to receive a credential through intentional program and system designs that build partnerships and leverage resources. By having alternative programs and pathways in place, high schools can avoid pushing these students out or giving them inferior instructors, curricula, opportunities, and supports. Students should be able to choose their academic plan and placement, including the choice to return to a traditional high school or utilize an alternative program.

MDRC describes core principles of promising pathway programs, and highlights pathway programs that have been found effective—including Career Academies and California Partnership Academies—in the policy brief “New Pathways to Careers and College: Examples, Evidence, and Prospects.” Additionally, the Back on Track through College Model helps educators design pathways to credentials for 16- to 24-year-olds who are off track to graduate. The model has three program phases: enriched preparation, post-secondary bridging, and first-year support. The report “Back on Track: Pathways through Postsecondary” outlines the key elements and operational features of the model. For descriptions of the strategies schools across the country are using to serve over-age and under-credited youth, see the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ report “Over-Age, Under-Credited Students and Public Charter Schools: An Exploration of Successes, Strategies, and Opportunities for Expansion.”

MDRC describes core principles of promising pathway programs in the brief New Pathways. Principles include:

  • keeping students’ options open

  • the choice of which pathway is up to the student and their parents

  • providing personal supports for students

  • integrating curriculum across subjects with real applications

  • employer partnerships and work-based learning

  • collaboration between high schools and postsecondary institutions

  • accountability systems and data-driven decision-making and

  • intermediaries to support the programs.

The New Pathways brief also highlights pathway programs that have been found effective, including Career Academies and California Partnership Academies.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ report Over-Age, Under-Credited Students and Public Charter Schools: An Exploration of Successes, Strategies and Opportunities for Expansion highlights profiles of schools using the below strategies to support overage and under credited youth.

  • real work application

  • flexible calendar and extended learning time

  • holistic student supports

Ensure Curricula Are Culturally Competent and Incorporate Social and Emotional Learning.

Many effective programs for disconnected young people not only address academic competencies but use culturally competent and relevant curricula, and provide social and emotional learning (SEL) opportunities. Culturally responsive pedagogy fosters achievement for all students by identifying, nurturing, and utilizing students’ strengths. Additionally, teaching and learning occur in culturally supported and learner-centered environments. The “National Education Association Diversity Toolkit” provides introductory information and links to resources on topics such as cultural competence for educators, gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identify, and social justice.

Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices for Social & Emotional Learning,” by the Susan Crown Exchange and the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, is a field guide that bridges research and practice. It provides curriculum features that support SEL through three domains: safe space, responsive practices, and staff supports. The guide features case studies of and standards for SEL practices in emotional management, empathy, teamwork, responsibility, initiative, and problem solving. Access a variety of tools and resources, such as Assessing Youth SEL Skills and the SEL Strengths Builder Method, at The Guide on Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs – Middle and High School Education, by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), provides a systematic framework for evaluating the quality of SEL programs, and provides best practices for schools and districts in selecting and implementing SEL programs. Learn more about School Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, a proactive approach to create positive school climates by supporting and teaching appropriate student behavior in a manner that is similar to teaching core subjects, –and explores core principles and what it takes for schools and districts to implement them.

Supporting Young Men of Color Who Have Disconnected From High School

Use Data to Make an Economic Case for Investing in Reconnecting Students Who Have Left School.

The Graduation Effect is a project that explores the economic impact of high-school graduation rates through a variety of resources and tools, including an interactive map that disaggregates economic benefits by race. The map also breaks down the economic benefits by metro area; a one-page infographic of this information can be downloaded. These data demonstrate the negative impact of lost potential and contributions of disconnected youth—especially boys and men of color—on society as a whole. In addition, the data make a case for why school reengagement centers and similar approaches are well worth the investment of time and money.

Conduct Segmentation Analyses.

More and more districts are using segmentation analysis to identify populations of students who are significantly off-track (by two years or more) to provide targeted programming and alternative options. Such analyses can also be used to find students who recently disconnected from school but were fairly close to graduating. These students can benefit from programming that will help them collect their final credits and complete exit exams. For more information on how to implement a segmentation analysis, see section five (p. 26) of the U.S. Department of Education’s “Early Warning Indicators and Segmentation Analysis: A Technical Guide on Data Studies that Inform Dropout Prevention and Recovery.”

Local Education Agencies (LEAS), Workforce Investment Boards (WIBS), and Community-Based Organizations (CBOS) Should Partner to Create Multiple Pathways to Graduation.

Disconnected young men of color who have been pushed out of high school need high-quality alternative programs to obtain a high-school degree or equivalent. Consider the role in providing disconnected youth a credential of (1) high-quality charter schools; (2) accelerated learning models; (3) twilight academies; (4) blended learning; (5) online high school; (6) Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program (I-BEST) models; (7) school/work models in partnership with WIBs; (8) GED Plus/Diploma Plus models and career; and (9) and technical education. Diploma Plus, a student-centered alternative to traditional high schools that provides personalized learning pathways and competency-based education. The model works in partnership with school districts, community partners, and employers to create a performance-based system, a supportive school culture, a future focus, and effective supports.

Leverage ESSA (The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015) to Implement a Statewide Reengagement System, and Provide Average Daily Attendance Funds to Reconnect Disconnected Youth at Scale.

The recently authorized federal education bill (ESSA) requires states to describe how they will work in partnership with school districts to create a seamless transition across the education pipeline—from middle school to high school to postsecondary institutions. ESSA also establishes a new grant program, Student Support and Academic Enrichment, which provides funding for states and school districts to use for dropout prevention. ESSA requires states to determine how they will support migrant American-Indian and Alaska-Native youth who have disconnected from high school. States must also think about how they will support prevention strategies used to ensure that students remain in school. To learn more about how ESSA can be leveraged to support disconnected youth, youth in foster care, youth who are experiencing homelessness, and youth with disabilities, read the primer “Every Student Succeeds Act Primer: High School Dropout Prevention and Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth” by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the National Youth Employment Coalition.

A few states, such as California, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, allow average daily attendance funds—allocated to schools based on students’ actual attendance in school—to follow young people that leave traditional high school and choose alternative education options such as adult education or dual-enrollment programs. Washington State has an “Open Doors” policy to provide education and other services to students who are not on track to graduate by age 21. The policy encourages community partnerships, creates multiple pathways for students to realize success, and provides an on-ramp to postsecondary achievement through a performance-based, individualized support model. Washington State has an initiative called Graduation: A Team Effort, which uses a collective impact approach to align dropout prevention, intervention, and reengagement efforts across agencies inside and outside of government at the state, regional, and local levels. Review the Essential Elements of a Comprehensive Dropout Prevention, Intervention and Reengagement System.


“Even though I was taking extra credit classes and doing after school work, they didn’t give me any of my extra credits or any credits from the credit recovery program. So, then I just kind of fell off, I figured there was no point in trying. There was no way I could win. No matter what I said about my lost grades, they just had the same excuse.”

- Donald

Source: America’s Promise Alliance GradNation. (2014). Don’t Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young People Who Leave High School Before Graduation. Washington, DC: America’s Promise Alliance and Boston: Center for Promise at Tufts University.

Eliminate Seat-Time Requirements and Time-Based Graduation Requirements in Favor of Performance-Based Ones.

Over-age, under-credited youth should not be required to spend more time in school than they need to develop the required competencies. Competency- or performance-based learning promotes students based on their mastery of skills and their readiness for progress, instead of for the amount of time they spend in a classroom. Students have the flexibility to receive credits through a variety of learning strategies, such as online and blended learning, dual enrollment, and project- and community-based learning. For more information, resources, and examples at the state, district, and school/program level, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Competency-Based Learning or Personalized Learning webpage or read the American Youth Policy Forum brief, “State Policy to Support Competency-Based Education for Overage, Under-Credited Students,” which highlights state policy and local programmatic examples.

Also, learn about the Readiness Project, created by the Forum for Youth Investment and SparkAction, which has synthesized research to define readiness and the conditions and contexts that promote readiness. For more information, read The Science (and Art) of Youth Readiness, which shares the comprehensive, systems-neutral science of readiness and promotes readiness abilities, skill sets and mind-sets, and practices; common “traps and gaps” are also addressed.

Field Favorites

The Science (and Art) of Youth Readiness is a compilation of research on brain science, social emotional learning, 21st century skills, employability skills and childhood well-being distilled into four systems-neutral components of readiness for young people.

Readiness Abilities, Skillsets and Mindsets. There are 10 universal abilities every person needs, regardless of age, background or circumstance, which every system and setting should support. These abilities are used every day, no matter who we are or what situations we are in. These abilities are supported by commonly used skillsets and mindsets (habits, attitudes and beliefs). Skillsets prepare and equip individuals to do something, while mindsets help individuals become willing to do something.

Readiness Abilities:

  1. I can get and stay healthy physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

  1. I can solve problems and make decisions about the intellectual, social, moral and emotional issues and problems I face.

  1. I can relate to others and the world by forming, managing and sustaining my relationships.

  1. I can use insights to grow and develop in each stage of life.

  1. I can work and stay focused in each stage of life.

  1. I can think and create in ways that help me navigate and experience life.

  1. I can persist through struggles and maintain hope no matter my challenges.

  1. I can engage with people and places by being present and engaging in meaningful, real and honest ways.

  1. I can apply learning in the real world to meet life demands.

  1. I can feel and express emotion appropriately and as a way to connect with others.

Readiness Skillsets:

  • Application

  • Resource & Information Processing

  • Coping

  • Communication

  • Organization & Planning

  • Problem Solving & Decision-Making

  • Reflection & Self-Awareness

  • Self-Regulation

  • Basic Life Management

  • Thinking & Analysis

  • Self-Care

  • Relationship Management

Readiness Mindsets:

  • Fairness

  • Open Mindedness

  • Future Orientation

  • Humility

  • Pragmatism

  • Agility

  • Drive

  • Adaptability

  • Curiosity

  • Compassion

  • Courage

  • Empathy

  • Growth Orientation

  • Optimism

  • Persistence

  • Purposefulness

Readiness Practice. There are four categories and characteristics of developmental practice that are essential to support young people in developing the Readiness Abilities. These are developmental:

  1. Environments

  1. Relationships

  1. Experiences

  1. The ways in which young people use space and time.

While intentionally system- and setting-neutral, the characteristics within these categories of Readiness Practice map to existing standards of practice for every major youth system (e.g., child welfare or education). Readiness Practice happens when adults put specific developmental practices in place, which build young people’s connections and competence.

Readiness Traps. There are four common cultural and policy “traps”: detrimental yet often-unintended conditions in systems or settings where young people spend time. Traps arise when a system or setting’s official practices—whether defined by rules and regulations or expectations and norms—focus on an easy-to-monitor metric (e.g., time or completion) that does not guarantee growth or competence. To transform practice and support readiness for all, we must understand and mitigate these four traps:

  1. Allowing age to be a proxy for stage

  1. Completion a proxy for competence

  1. Time a proxy for progress

  1. Access a proxy for quality

Readiness Gaps. Readiness Traps fuel four Readiness Gaps, which are deep and persistent disparities among populations of young people and between what young people have and what they need in life, work, and civic and community engagement. The four prevailing gaps are in:

  1. Achievement

  1. Expectations

  1. Opportunities

  1. Skills

Utilize Blended Learning Strategies and Other Forms of Learning via Technology.

Blended learning incorporates both in-person and virtual-educational instruction. Primary forms include:

  • Flex model: used primarily online; pace can be customized for individual students

  • Rotation model: operates on a set schedule and includes several learning modalities

  • A la carte model: involves taking one class online, often to augment what the district offers, and the rest in a standard classroom setting

  • Enriched virtual model: includes the entire population of students, some of who participate in some classes online and some in a classroom

Read more about blended learning, an approach that is particularly effective for reengaging disconnected youth, in the America’s Promise Alliance’s brief, “Blended Learning Offers Promise as a Strategy for Re-engaging Students.”

Consider Comprehensive Residential Programs.

One comprehensive residential program that has been studied extensively is the National Guard ChalleNGe program. This initiative offers 15- to 18-year-olds that have disconnected from school the opportunity to get a high-school equivalency diploma outside the traditional high-school setting.

A cost-benefit analysis conducted by RAND Corporation found that the program yielded a 166 percent return on investment. Enrollees participate in a two-week “acclimation period,” a five-month residential phase, and a 12-month postresidential phase. Mentors are assigned halfway through the residential phase and maintain engagement throughout the post- residential phase. Core program components include: academic excellence, health and hygiene, job skills, leadership/followership, life-coping skills, physical fitness, responsible citizenship, and service to the community. View the Washington Youth Challenge Academy Video Series to learn more.

Create or Expand Reengagement Centers.

Connect disconnected young men of color with credit recovery, tutoring, child care, and other services that help them re-enroll and graduate from high school or complete an alternative education program leading to a diploma or GED.

What are Reengagement Centers?

Reengagement centers are one-stop centers for students who left high school without a diploma. These centers offer a range of services such as individual academic assessments, opportunities to explore different education options and referrals to appropriate schools or other credential programs. Reengagement centers can either operate in a central physical location or through roving staff or other “virtual” connections. Regardless of the specific approach, the goal of reengagement centers and programs is the same: to provide caring, well-trained staff that help young people develop personalized plans to earn a high school diploma or GED.

The National League of Cities (NLC) manages the NLC Dropout Reengagement Network.

The National League of Cities’ Municipal Action Guide: Reconnecting Youth through Dropout Reengagement Centers highlights the following action steps to get started:

  1. Conduct an inventory of local initiatives focused on dropout recovery.

  1. Take the lead in developing a dropout reengagement strategy.

  1. Determine the most appropriate roles for city government in the establishment of a dropout reengagement initiative, including attention to strategic investments.

  1. Establish an accountability system for reengagement efforts.

  1. Ensure continuous learning and improvement, especially during early implementation.

For more information including city examples, strategies and resources view the Municipal Action Guide: Reconnecting Youth through Dropout Reengagement Centers, the U.S. Department of Education’s Bringing Students Back to the Center: A Resource Guide for Implementing and Enhancing Re-Engagement Centers For Out-Of-School Youth and the book Reengagement: Bringing Students Back to America’s Schools.

Field Favorites

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), a national nonprofit that develops and advocates for federal, state, and local policies to strengthen families and create pathways to education and work, outlines a set of recommendations and provides ideas for action in a brief titled, Investing in Boys and Young Men of Color: The Promise and Opportunity. Below is an excerpt of policy recommendations and action steps that support high-school completion among disconnected young men of color.

Promote school discipline approaches that address behavioral problems without pushing students out of school.

  • Engage organizations that work directly with school district leaders in rethinking discipline strategies with the goal of improving, rather than simply punishing, behavior. This includes re-evaluating police presence in schools and exploring opportunities to train teachers in such areas as cultural competency and classroom management.

  • Develop technical assistance resources that offer schools practical alternatives to harsh suspension and expulsion policies, and that promote developmentally appropriate ways to improve student behavior and school safety. Share the lessons of schools that have made positive changes and are demonstrating success.

  • Support national policy efforts to address the unintended consequences of police in schools and an overreliance on school suspensions and expulsions. Develop and promote commonsense policies that address behavioral problems without pushing young men out of schools, and that align with national goals for increasing graduation rates.

  • Expand community-based alternatives to juvenile detention, such as evening reporting centers, home-based alternative services, and community-based therapy treatment. Specifically, use this strategy to address the disproportionately high rate of young men of color engaged with the justice system.

Increase the use of data to target interventions at boys of color who are at risk for dropping out of school.

  • Support districts to create an early warning signs tracking system using readily available school data to identify boys of color in middle or high school who show early signs of struggle and potential high-school dropout.

  • Assist schools in the creation of systemic dropout-prevention strategies. Identify successful models and document their work for wide dissemination across school districts and states.

  • Advocate for stronger dropout-prevention policies and increased support for dropout-prevention work in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This includes the expansion of current dropout-prevention competitive federal grant programs, greater guidance on the use of data to inform dropout-prevention work in states and districts, incentives to partner with community-based organizations to provide dropout-prevention services, and increased collaboration across youth- serving systems to ensure that the most vulnerable youth receive supports to remain in school.

Expand opportunities for young men of color to work, learn, and develop career-enhancing skills.

  • Target resources at communities with high youth unemployment rates that have created a youth employment infrastructure to expand work-based opportunities, including work experience, internships, apprenticeships, transitional jobs, community service, and on-the-job training. Assist communities in blending their workforce, education, and career-technology resources to provide career training and work experience options for youth who are disconnected from school.

  • Provide incentives to increase employer engagement in the development of pipelines and trial employment activities to expose in-school and out-of-school youth to careers and emerging opportunities.

  • Offer support to organizations working to broker greater access to labor market opportunities for minorities as a result of community or regional economic development.

  • Support efforts to help youth involved with the justice system to successfully access and navigate the labor market.

  • Introduce incentives to leadership in the local workforce system to prioritize the creation of paths to work opportunities for young men of color that offer higher wages and a meaningful career trajectory.

Elevate the importance of a “caring adult” in policy and programmatic efforts to re-engage out-of-school males.

  • Support national and local policy efforts to create cross-system approaches to dropout recovery and reengagement programming. These approaches should emphasize the importance of a “case management” function to assist youth in navigating social, education, and employment options.

  • Provide technical assistance and professional development activities to professionals who work with youth in a variety of areas, including alternative and traditional education, juvenile justice, employment and training, and youth development. These actions will support their practice with and understanding of working with males of color, the unique challenges facing out-of-school youth, and the role of caring adult advocates critical to the success of these young men.

  • Identity and fund culture-specific mentoring initiatives that have a proven track record of serving males of color and have strong linkages to local education reform and collaborative youth employment efforts.

Provide options for out-of-school males to attain a secondary credential with pathways to postsecondary education.

  • Support national policy efforts to provide incentives to districts to recover and further the education of high-school dropouts. Implement four-, five-, and six-year cohort graduation rates so that districts can accurately account for students who return to school and complete their education.

  • Encourage state- and district-level activities to plan for and fund dropout-recovery efforts, and advocate for cross-agency efforts to support the reengagement of males of color in education.

  • Target resources to local cross-system approaches that engage youth-serving agencies and organizations in the research, planning, funding, and implementation of appropriate school and work interventions for out- of-school males.

  • Scale up local programmatic approaches with a demonstrated track record for out-of-school males within the context of a broader comprehensive local strategy. Several communities with large minority populations have adopted sound programmatic approaches based on effective case management wraparound supports and partnerships with other systems to provide needed services.

View the full document to access additional information and the action steps you can take to achieve the above recommendations.

Community Spotlights

Seattle/King County, Washington

The Road Map Project |

The Road Map Project drives dramatic improvement in student achievement from cradle to college and career in South King County and South Seattle, Washington by creating a common goal and shared vision in order to facilitate coordinated action, both inside and outside schools. The Road Map Project includes a cross-sector Opportunity Youth Work Group to create better coordinated and aligned pathways to reconnect opportunity youth in their region. View The Road Map’s Opportunity Youth Action Plan.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Project U-Turn |

Project U-Turn is a citywide campaign to understand, focus public attention on and resolve Philadelphia’s dropout crisis. Project U-Turn has expanded or established multiple pathways to graduation (MPG) programs including Accelerated High Schools, Gateway to College, Educational Options Programs, GED to College, E3 Centers and Occupational Skills Training Programs.

To learn more, read their recent study A Promise Worth Keeping: Advancing the High School Graduation Rate in Philadelphia, as well as From Diplomas to Degrees: Examining the Path to and Through College and Unequal: A Path Forward for Neighborhood High Schools.

YESPhilly, a member of the collaborative Project U-Turn, helps young people that have left school without a diploma get a high school education, counseling, training in media arts and preparation for college and careers. YesPhilly (Youth Empowerment Services) provides a wide-range of opportunities for more than 200 disconnected high school students each year. Students work individually with counselors to develop life and personal skills, create goals and establish a student development plan. Students participate in small classes that are at the appropriate level and that provide varied approaches to learning that are hands-on, relevant and interactive.

School Spotlights

Boston Day and Evening Academy |

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) is an alternative public charter high school located in Roxbury, Massachusetts. BDEA was created to serve Boston Public School students who are over-age for high school, have had poor attendance, were held back in 8th grade, are not getting the attention in class that they need to succeed and/or has dropped out but is eager to come back to school to earn their diploma. BDEA is a student-centered, competency-based school, and uses neither Carnegie units (A, B, C, D, F) nor traditional grade levels (9th, 10th, 11th, 12th) to measure progress.

Big Picture Learning |

Big Picture Learning (BPL) puts students at the center of their own learning. Hundreds of BPL network schools in the United States and around the world work together and in their communities to reimagine and reshape education. Each student at a Big Picture Learning school is part of a small learning community of 15 students called an advisory. Each advisory is supported and led by an advisor, a teacher who works closely with the group of students and forms personalized relationships with each advisee. Each student works closely with his or her advisor to identify interests and personalize learning. The student as the center of learning model engages and challenges each student and makes learning authentic and relevant. Each student has an internship where he or she works closely with a mentor, learning in a real-world setting. Parents and families are actively involved in the learning process, helping to shape each student’s learning plan, and are enrolled as resources to the school community. The result is a student-centered learning design, where students are actively invested in their learning and are challenged to pursue their interests by a supportive community of educators, professionals, and family members.

Opportunity High School |

Hartford, Connecticut

Opportunity High School (OHS) provides the three R’s necessary to be successful in school: Rigor, Relevance and Relationships. The school is a small, academically-rigorous diploma-granting high school which combines the unique skills and expertise of Our Piece of the Pie (OPP) and Hartford Public Schools (HPS), the two school partners. School governance is shared equally between the school system and OPP. In addition to HPS instruction, each student is enrolled in OPP’s relationship-intensive program and is assigned a Youth Development Specialist who helps them reach their academic goals, including post-secondary education goals and employment goals.

Opportunity High School serves students that are under-credited and have not experienced success in a traditional high school setting. OHS provides the individualized attention and intensive support services that help youth discover a path to academic success.

Ensuring Disconnected Young Men of Color Graduate From High School Ready for College and Career

Supporting Young Men of Color to Prevent Disconnection from High School

  1. Ensure that programs incorporate “elements of success:” rigor and academic support, relationships, college knowledge and access, relevance, youth-centered programming, and effective instruction.

  1. Increase the number of dedicated staff, counselors, and mentors to promote the well-being of young men of color; invest in teacher and staff professional development; and implement trauma-informed approaches.

  1. Find out how boys and men of color are faring academically.

  1. Become a mentor, ensure there are quality mentoring programs in your area, and incorporate mentoring into your education and community and/or youth development program.

  1. Improve school climate and eliminate zero-tolerance policies to help reduce the school-to-prison pipeline.

  1. Implement positive behavior and restorative discipline practices.

  1. Confirm that policies and practices promote college and career readiness for all high-school students, including young men of color with disabilities.

Supporting Young Men of Color Who Are in the Process of Disconnecting from High School

  1. Establish a timely and accurate early warning signs tracking system.

  1. Identify students who are chronically absent from school and address their needs through strategies such as mentorship and parent/family outreach and engagement.

  1. Discover, target, and design systems for over-age and under-credited youth who are likely to get off track before earning their diploma.

  1. Ensure curricula are culturally competent and incorporate social and emotional learning.

Supporting Young Men of Color Who Have Disconnected from High School

  1. Use data to make an economic case for investing in reconnecting students who have left school.

  1. Conduct segmentation analyses.

  1. Emphasize the importance of Local Education Agencies (LEAs), Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs), and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) partnering to create multiple pathways to graduation.

  1. Leverage the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 to implement a statewide reengagement system and/or use average daily attendance funds to reconnect disconnected youth at scale.

  1. Eliminate seat-time requirements and time-based graduation requirements in favor of performance-based ones.

  1. Utilize blended learning strategies and other forms of learning via technology.

  1. Consider comprehensive residential programs.

  1. Create or expand reengagement centers.


Some of the most effective strategies for reconnecting disconnected boys and young men of color cut across the My Brother’s Keeper milestones. Supporting disconnected youth often requires helping in multiple aspects of their lives. Therefore, putting into place integrated approaches can be a particularly useful place to start.

  • Include disconnected boys and young men of color in developing and implementing your strategy.

  • Use a racial and gender equity lens and promote cultural competence and sensitivity in all facets of your work.

  • Gather data on your community’s disconnected boys and young men of color.

  • Determine how much funding is available and identify opportunities to leverage funds to serve disconnected boys and young men of color.

  • Ensure there is a mechanism to align governmental efforts for disconnected boys and young men of color.

  • Consider applying to become a federal Performance Partnership Pilots site.

  • Learn from networks and national place-based initiatives focused on boys and young men of color and opportunity youth.

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