Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why I voted yes on a new agenda for Washtenaw County youth

Jenna Bacolor, Executive Director, Rec & Ed

Last month, the Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth (WACY) asked the executive directors of its member organizations to vote on a proposed new direction and structure for the seven-year-old collaborative. Over twenty leaders from youth-serving agencies in Washtenaw County cast ballots. 

If you're not familiar with WACY, it's a collaboration of youth-serving agencies dedicated to improving services, quality of life and success for youth in our community. Its mission is simple: all Washtenaw County youth will be ready for college, work and life by age 21. Members include the Neutral ZoneOzone HouseCommunity Action NetworkEMU Bright Futures, the Family Learning Institute, and Catholic Social ServicesRec & Ed has been a member since WACY's inception in 2008. 

While WACY advocates for the healthy development of all children and youth, they pay particular attention to increasing opportunities for economically disadvantaged children and families. (See my earlier blog post on the challenges facing Washtenaw County children who live in poverty.)

During my few years of involvement with WACY, the focus has been around identifying effective youth program evaluation tools, producing a county-level youth report card, and providing training on Youth Program Quality methods. Many Rec & Ed staff have received training in these methods with a direct benefit for our child care, after school and summer camp programs. 

These efforts were important for developing a common vocabulary and understanding among youth-serving agencies, but I often wondered if we could do more by harnessing our power as a group.

So, I was curious to hear about the proposed new direction for WACY, especially when I learned that it would utilize a Collective Impact model. This model, which originated at Stanford, promotes social change efforts by bringing people together in a structured way to form a common agenda and vision, use shared measurement tools and perform mutually reinforcing activities. A strong "backbone institution" and communication among partners are essential.  

WACY leaders presented the Collective Impact framework and asked Executive Directors to vote on each of the following three proposals:

1. A new Common Agenda.  
This common agenda focuses WACY on positive youth development for children who are economically disadvantaged. The three focus areas for youth in the common agenda are social emotional health, health and safety, and academic and career readiness. Numerous indicators within each of these areas will be tracked over time.

This infrastructure includes an "anchor institution" (the Washtenaw Intermediate School District or WISD) and a new structure for WACY committees that matches the other two Washtenaw County youth collaboratives listed below. The WISD is the backbone infrastructure for all three of the collaboratives below.

3. A commitment to a Cradle-to-Career approach with other youth-focused collaboratives in Washtenaw County. 
This approach creates overlapping communication, accountability, and collaboration among WACY and the two other collaboratives: Washtenaw Success by Six Great Start Collaborative for 0-8 year olds and Washtenaw Futures for 14-24 year olds. 

These organizations form the Cradle-to-Career network in Washtenaw County.
To me, the common agenda and cradle-to-career approach make so much sense. A common agenda with specific goals and ways to measure progress will help focus our efforts. Over 14,000 K-12 students -- nearly one in three of all students enrolled in Washtenaw County -- qualify for free or reduced price lunch. I agree that WACY should strive to improve social emotional health, health and safety, and college/career readiness for economically disadvantaged youth.  

As for the backbone institution, the WISD is a natural organization to provide this service for the three collaboratives. The key will be for them to find stable revenue to employ one or two critical staff. 

I wasn't alone in my support for the proposal. Of the 23 member executive directors who voted:
  • 22 voted in favor of the Common Agenda; 1 voted to abstain
  • 21 voted in favor of the Backbone Infrastructure; 2 voted to abstain
  • 22 voted in favor of WACY's partnership in Cradle-to-Career; 1 voted to abstain. 
So what happens now? The next few months are critical. It's exciting to agree to a common agenda, but working together to have collective impact will take strategic action and cooperation in an era of tight budgets.

One thing is certain: children who live in poverty in our community deserve our unwavering efforts to empower and improve their lives. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Camp of the week! $15 discount for Anime and Science camps

Don't miss these great deals on Rec & Ed Summer Camps!
Save $15.00 on either camp below if you register by Friday, May 29.

Science for our Planet Camp
August 3-7, 9:00 - 4:00 PM, Wines Elementary School
Equal parts learning and fun, campers explore the science of everyday life in our diverse local environment. How is heat trapped in our atmosphere? What type of environment does an earthworm prefer? Make an oven, write nature themed songs and learn how littering affects our environment. Science for our Planet is led by Jonathan Gillies, former Green Adventures Camp Naturalist. Click here to register or for more information.

Anime Camp
June 15-19, 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM, Forsythe Middle School
Explore the cartooning styles of Japanese Anime. Learn to draw Pokemon, ninjas, princesses and other Manga style characters. Work with fellow manga enthusiasts to create an amazing cultural festival, complete with anime-themed decorations, games, food and performances. Afternoon activities may include Cosplay (dress up and role play characters), JPop, Asian culture and language and other related topics. Click here to register or for more information. 

At Rec & Ed, there's a camp for every kid
With over 200 day camps, Rec & Ed truly has a camp for every child's interest. Baseball, Star Wars, Art, Engineering, Soccer, Superhero and Spy Camp are just a few of our kid-inspired offerings. Click here to explore all of our camps. 

Don't delay -- this $15.00 discount ends Friday, May 29. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

New $avings with Rec & Ed's Camp of the Week Discount

Save $15 on the camps below if you register by Friday, May 22nd:

2014 Shakespeare in the Arb campers
Back for the 9th year, Shakespeare in the Arb offers your child the chance to work with experienced actors in one of Ann Arbor's most beautiful settings. Children practice vocal and acting skills while learning Shakespeare. 
Performance on Friday. Week of June 15th. Morning camp for 2nd-5th graders and afternoon camp for 6th-9th graders
Click here for more information or to register.

Take a journey to Middle Earth with Hobbit Camp. Your child will experience the Hobbit lifestyle and all the magic that Middle Earth has to offer. Week of June 22nd 9am-4pm.
Click here for more information or to register.

Learn about all of Rec & Ed's summer camps at our Virtual Summer Camp Fair.