Signs of Spring

Michael Roberts and student

As I write this, COVID numbers have fallen dramatically, masks are off at school, and spring is here. These are welcome signs of hope after all we’ve endured! As the past two years recede in our rearview mirror, I’ve been reflecting not just on things we lost, but on some of the valuable things that came out of the pandemic. Every crisis brings an opportunity, and the pandemic opened opportunities for schools, young people, employers, and families.

We now really understand the digital divide, particularly for young people of color. It took the pandemic and remote schooling for us to realize that the young people we serve rely almost entirely on their phones, and often don’t have a basic grasp of computer skills and technology which are essential skills in the 21st century. Our students need to be fluent in tech so that they can succeed in today’s workplaces and campuses. The takeaway for us at Comprehensive Youth Development has been to consciously utilize technology in our programming and work with the principals in our partner schools to explore ways to integrate basic computer classes into the school day.

High school students need skills training to compete in a challenging employment environment. Almost all of the young people who graduate from our schools need to work either part- or full-time while they go to college or take part in other advanced training. One of CYD’s current priorities is to develop Anchor Skills training for students while they are in high school to provide microcredentials to make them more qualified job applicants. These microcredentials include coding, driver’s licenses, and to certificates in Microsoft Office and Google Workplace. These skills will allow students to connect more quickly with the workplace in jobs that have the potential to lattice into long-term careers. This journey begins with one step.

Zoom is sometimes a better way. When we had to move tutoring, parent nights, and corporate career panels online, we found that these worked extremely well. Flexibility suits our students’ and parents’ busy work schedules and those of our volunteers, too. These are innovations we are continuing.

The best ideas don’t always come from the top. Our staff works at four school sites spread across lower Manhattan sites, and getting the full community together requires a lot of logistics. We instituted, and are continuing, frequent all-community meetings to share work and best practices. We found that helped to flatten the hierarchy and remind us that inventive ideas and solutions come from staff at all levels.

As we welcome the signs of spring, we carry the memories and traces of all we’ve been through. I am left with gratitude for our young people, our staff, and for the lessons we all learned. Now the challenge is to utilize our learnings! At Comprehensive Youth Development, we are reevaluating our programming, and actively advocating with other NYC nonprofits to make the most of the knowledge and opportunities the pandemic has brought us. Together, we will work to maximize this moment of opportunity to improve the futures of our young people.

michael roberts signature
Michael Roberts
Executive Director, Comprehensive Youth Development

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