YWP has been working on education policy for many years and have successfully led the development and passage of policies establishing new Health Education Standards (2016), an expansion of the DCPS condom availability policy (2010), and a first ever Sexual Harassment policy in DCPS (2005). All of this work was spear-headed by youth advocates. During the 2015-16 school year, we expanded our education policy agenda to focus on the following issues: educational equity across DC public high schools, DC public schools budget access for at-risk student funding, mental health services in school, K-12 health education, community schools, and equitable distribution of academic services and services.
Led the development and passage of new DC State Learning Standards for Health Education (Approved April 20,2016 for a 2016-17 school year implementation), working closely with the State Board of Education, DC Public Schools (DCPS), and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Specifying concepts and skills that students need to know and do, from pre-K through 12th grade, standards are used to develop curriculum and professional development, inform teacher lesson plans and instruction, and monitor student progress. Driven by the urgent health needs of DC children and youth and shaped by the instructional needs of public school teachers, these new standards are likely to be the most comprehensive, progressive, skills-based, and needs responsive in the country. Now we are working to support and fund health standards implementation.
Successfully advocated for an expansion of the DCPS condom availability policy in 2011, to include youth condom distributors and the expansion of WRAP-MC to include youth leaders and trainers;
Led the development and passage of the DCPS Student Sexual Harassment Policy (July 2002): After two years of research, surveys, building support among teen women – SCSS wrote and passed a DCPS Sexual Harassment Policy on July 2002 and took the lead on implementation. Sexual Harassment Campaign (SHC) staff created a user-friendly version of the policy which was distributed to all DCPS teachers and administration during September 2002 orientations. SHC youth and adult staff worked together to train 1,500 students in three schools, train 50 go-to staff and 200 student leaders from 12 DC public high schools and 9 middle schools (October 2013), and developed The Harassment Education Package (HEP) which provides tools (lesson plans, recruitment advice, evaluation tools, policy information) to go-to teachers and students so that they can conduct sexual harassment training and track policy implementation. YWP staff facilitated the DCPS Sexual Harassment Taskforce, including youth-serving non-profits, the Office for Civil Rights, the DC PTA and officials from the Superintendent’s Office – charged with implementing the policy.
DC Public Schools Budget Access for At-Risk Student Funding: When YWP peer advocates began to explore Educational Equity, they started by looking at DCPS’ budget, especially the at-risk funds, which aims to address the educational needs of at-risk students. But they found the budget to be confusing and inaccessible. They could not tell where most of the funding in their schools was being used for. We have found that participatory budgeting is a tool for meaningful student engagement in the budget development process. YWP’s Educational Equity campaign, at its core, holds a belief that children and youth who are disproportionately affected by poverty, violence, and trauma should receive a disproportionate amount of support from their city. YWP also believes that youth affected by these problems have to be engaged in solving them directly. The at-risk funds give DCPS the resources to solve inequity, but they need to get input from and give decision-making power to at-risk youth and their parents, in order to come up with the appropriate strategies.
YWP asked the following of the Committee on Education, and will be pursuing these issues further with the Chancellor this year:
- That 5 percent of at-risk funds within DCPS’ budget be designated for a participatory budgeting process
- That this participatory budgeting process includes students, parents and guardians, teachers, and school administrators
- For a relevant government entity to facilitate the process
- For DCPS to work to create budget tools and documents with parent and student input.
Mental Health Services in Schools: Working with youth from 15 different high schools, a recurrent issue that has been brought up is youth concerns about mental health supportive services in their schools. Understanding that mental health is closely linked to academic performance, YWP staff has advocated for more support in a few key areas in mental health - trauma, stress, and depression.
In Performance Oversight testimonies, YWP has asked for:
- a comprehensive school-based behavioral health program at all schools,
- the compilation of all the data into one place that is accessible to the public
- clear roles for school mental health providers
- the creation of a caregiver-friendly information system that would be utilized by individuals looking for more detailed information about the school-based mental health program
- the inclusion of trauma in health education for children of all ages
K-12 Health Education: After several years of work, YWP led the development and passage of new DC State Learning Standards for Health Education working closely with the State Board of Education, DC Public Schools (DCPS), and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). This was approved on April 1, 2016 for an August 2016 implementation. Specifying concepts and skills that students need to know and do, from pre-K through 12th grade, standards are used to develop curriculum and professional development, inform teacher lesson plans and instruction, and monitor student progress. Driven by the urgent health needs of DC children and youth and shaped by the instructional needs of public school teachers, these new standards are likely to be the most comprehensive, progressive, skills-based, and needs responsive in the country. Now we are working to support and fund health standards implementation.
Community Schools: YWP is advocating expanding DC's existing Community-School Initiative (CSI) to include more schools, more funding, more comprehensive programming, and more rigorous academic, workforce, and civic engagement outcomes for youth. Community Schools is a proven, research-based, best-practice focused strategy that organizes school and community resources around student success and offer a range of programs including intensive academic programming, school enrichment, workforce readiness, mental health, and other services, facilitating partnerships between schools, community organizations and businesses. High quality community schools can address both the academic and support needs of at-risk youth, providing individual interventions as well as group enrichment programming. This work is scalable and can be increased over time, as individual models are tested, evaluated, and ready for replication. The work is lead and staffed by nonprofits (which tend to be cheaper than DCPS staffed work) and promise to bring new resources, volunteers, and services into the school. We believe that Community Schools could be a powerful source of educational and social development and support for foster, homeless, and at-risk youth. Right now, CSI supports 6 community schools with a budget of $1 million. The programs are generally understaffed, lacking in outcomes, poorly implemented, barely evaluated, focused on mental health and adult services, and reaching a fraction of the population that need them. At YWP’s recommendation, the current legislation (Community School Incentive Act of 2012) has been amended to include more emphasis on academic outcomes, more rigorous data collection and evaluation, and a focus on the most under resourced schools and youth, including homeless and foster youth. These changes were made by CM Grosso as part of the Committee on Education budget recommendations approved by the DC Council on 5.27.15. Although we were not successful at raising the budget needed to expand to 15 schools, we are focusing on building a stronger infrastructure and program delivery that will support expansion next year. We anticipate working closely with the DME’s office and in coalition with existing community schools and other to improve the quality of this work and lay out a strategic plan for expansion.
Equitable Distribution of Academic Resources and Services: YWP works with youth from very different schools. Some schools come equipped with pools, kitchens, and plentiful science labs, others have rodents, crumbling school rooms, and no textbooks. Some schools have 29 Advance Placement courses, while others only have 3. These disparities run along economic lines. Even though the Chancellor and the Committee on Education have expressed their concern and have put forth a plan to equalize school resources, the quality of these resources can still be unequal. This is a big problem to solve, and YWP hopes to work on these issues alongside students, government leaders, and agency staff to not bring equal and just educational services for all DC youth.