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Philadelphia hosts national convening bringing thought leaders together to strategize high school re-engagement to post-secondary success

More than 200 leaders from across the country will gather on March 19 and 20 for the Sixth National Reengagement Plus! Convening hosted by the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, Families (YEF Institute) with National Youth Employment Coalition, Philadelphia Youth Network, Project U-Turn and the School District of Philadelphia as the core planning team.

Building on the previous five national meetings, the Philadelphia convening’s theme, “From Reengagement to Postsecondary,” connects the strategies and programs mayors and city leaders have launched to help their young people attain the postsecondary credentials relevant to the local workforce. The two-day convening will also provide participants opportunities to visit various re-engagement programs across Philadelphia and will also include the release of More than a Million Reasons for Hope, a report on youth disconnection by Measure of America.

“Philadelphia is proud to host the Reengagement Plus! Convening,” said Mayor James Kenney. “While the overall the number of opportunity youth in our city has declined, we still have too many youth and young adults disconnected from school and work. Today, we bring together leaders from Philadelphia and across the country to learn and share promising practices and improve the efforts of re-engaging youth and preparing them for post-secondary success.”

“The sixth annual Reengagement Plus! convening will energize the policymakers and front-line practitioners who help re-connect youth to education every day, by providing a dynamic forum to share lessons learned and useful strategies,” said Andrew Moore, program director, National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families and author, Reengagement: Bringing Students Back to America’s Schools (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). “For the National League of Cities, the convening also highlights the importance of engaging all of the talent in every city, in keeping with the 2018 organization-wide exploration of The Future of Work.”

The convening will feature opportunities for robust discussion and interaction through a variety of workshops, and two plenary panel discussions, one highlighting practitioners in the field, and the other, local leaders. Panelists will include:

Day 1 - Practitioners:

  • Brendan Conlin, Chief Programs Officer, Congreso
  • Christina Grant, Assistant Superintendent Opportunity Network, School District of Philadelphia (facilitator)
  • David E. Thomas, Associate Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, Dean, Division of Access and Community Engagement, Community College of Philadelphia
  • Pamela Thomas, Principal, OIC Career and Development Institute
  • Richette Walton, Philadelphia Learning Academy (PLA) North and the Hub at PA CareerLink West®, young adult

Day 2 – Local Leaders:

  • Donald Generals, President, Community College of Philadelphia
  • William Hite, Superintendent, School District of Philadelphia
  • Mayor James F. Kenney, City of Philadelphia
  • Cynthia Figueroa, Commissioner, Philadelphia Department of Human Services
  • Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, President & CEO, Philadelphia Youth Network (facilitator)

Site visits will take place on day one of the event, giving those from outside of Philadelphia an opportunity to see promising practices in action. At each site, guests will receive a walkthrough of the program and facility, and have an opportunity for guided discussion with staff and participants. Sites include:

“The most important thing that we can do is remain focused on these strategies and continue to improve outcomes for our re-engaged students,” said Dr. William Hite, Superintendent of The School District of Philadelphia. “We are excited to celebrate the Re-engagement Center’s 10-year anniversary. We are committed to providing opportunities for our students to ensure they are college and career ready.”

“We are proud to celebrate the success of the Re-engagement Centers,” said Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, President and CEO, Philadelphia Youth Network and Project U-Turn Steering Committee Member. “30,000 opportunities for re-engagement have been provided since Project U-Turn’s inception. This convening signifies the unified front across diverse stakeholders to ensure young people in Philadelphia have the necessary access to opportunity that will ultimately help to lift them, and our city overall, out of poverty, putting both on a path to success.”

Despite steady progress both in Philadelphia and nationwide, More than a Million Reasons for Hope by Measure of America, reported that there are 4.6 million, or one in nine, young people who remain disconnected from school and work. Data also shows that these numbers are disproportionately higher among young people of color, those who live in poverty as well as those who face barriers to employment such as involvement in the criminal justice system.

"Although the youth disconnection rate dropped for all racial and ethnic groups between 2010 and 2016, the distance between the groups with the highest and lowest disconnection rates did not narrow appreciably,” said Kristen Lewis, co-director of Measure of America, who presented the data. "Preventing disconnection and reengaging those whose ties to school have long since frayed requires proven, multipronged strategies, adequate resources, wraparound services, involving youth in planning programs that will serve them, and finally, patience, understanding, and a long-term commitment."

The national convening came together with the help of a local planning committee including City of Philadelphia’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, Department of Human Services and Mayor's Office of Education; Congreso; Community College of Philadelphia; District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund; JEVS Human Services; Philadelphia Youth Network; Philadelphia Works, Inc.; Opportunity Youth United; and YouthBuild Philadelphia.

“The Reengagement Plus! convening models the kind of conversation among education, youth development, and workforce development leaders that’s needed to tackle youth disconnection. The National Youth Employment Coalition is honored to help make this convening happen,” said Thomas Showalter, executive director of NYEC, which builds the capacity of youth-serving organizations and advocates on issues related to opportunity youth.

Project U-Turn alliance releases progress toward renewed goals

City officials and leaders celebrate progress toward Project U-Turn's goals and brainstorm strategies to continue raising the high school graduation rate and re-engaging disconnected young people

Today, Project U-Turn, an alliance that unifies partners to increase the graduation rate and prepare young people for new opportunities, shared progress toward its renewed goals. In June 2017, Project U-Turn unveiled new goals to increase re-engagement, reduce the number of young people who disconnect from high school and increase the percent of connections to a post-secondary education, training program and/or employment.

The program began with welcoming remarks from Dr. William R. Hite, Jr., Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), who shared that the graduation rate for the 2016-2017 school year, was the highest the District has seen yet at 67 percent. He credited Project U-Turn, stating that since its inception in 2006, the graduation rose 30 percent.

Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa, Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS), gave remarks that focused on the collaborative work between DHS and the District. The partnership has strengthened the efforts not only to re-engage young people, but also prevent disconnection, for a far-reaching impact.

"Project U-Turn has been a pivotal convener of key stakeholders including DHS and the SDP to improve educational outcomes. Their role has deepened partnerships and encouraged innovation such as the development of the DHS Education Support Center. We are an eager and continued partner with the SDP and all the Project U-Turn partners," said Figueroa.

At the event, two presentations focused on case studies of promising practices around re-engagement strategies, followed by an interactive discussion around re-engagement and disconnection prevention. The event was preceded by a private funders' breakfast hosted by Dr. Hite, sharing updates on the work and impact of Project U-Turn as well as upcoming efforts to collectively continue the improvement of Philadelphia's high school graduation rate.

To learn more about Project U-Turn's renewed commitment, visit

Philadelphia partners receive AFCS Youth Entrepreneurship Fund grant to boost enterprise opportunities for youth

Last week, The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions (AFCS) announced the recipients of the 2017 Youth Entrepreneurship Fund (YEF) grants:

  • Del Norte County and Tribal Lands Opportunity Youth Initiative, Del Norte County, CA (Humboldt Area Foundation, backbone agency);
  • Project U-Turn, Philadelphia, PA (Philadelphia Youth Network, backbone agency); and
  • Roadmap to Peace, San Francisco, CA (Bay Area Community Resources, backbone agency).

The YEF is a new effort to support innovative, collaborative approaches to creating a pipeline into entrepreneurship for opportunity youth by infusing entrepreneurial education into existing local entrepreneurship ecosystem. YEF grants strive to promote racial, gender, and economic equity and justice by ensuring that youth who are experiencing barriers to participation in the economy – including youth of color, low-income, immigrant, system-involved, and LGBTQ youth – are provided with the full range of opportunities to develop the entrepreneurial mindset and skillset, as well as a set of tools and supports they need to thrive in today's economy. The initiative is funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Locally, the grant was awarded to the Philadelphia Youth Network on behalf of Project U-Turn, an alliance that unifies partners to increase the graduation rate and prepare young people for future opportunities. Project U-Turn has a long-term goal of scaling new entrepreneurial education program models by embedding them into partner's youth development programs citywide. Grant partners include E3 Power Centers; the Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN); the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE); the Philadelphia Department of Commerce (Commerce); the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS). By developing and evaluating a new entrepreneurship pilot at E3 Power Centers, the partners aim to expand access to curriculum that develops an entrepreneurial mindset and skills that will provide youth and young adults with pathways into entrepreneurship and careers in small businesses. Their long-term vision seeks to identify and infuse promising practices across existing programs, such as E3 Power Centers, to improve quality of program offerings throughout the city.

As part of the development of a citywide workforce strategy, the City of Philadelphia and its partners have been working to identify specific ways in which they can support the development of career pathways for opportunity youth. Project U-Turn and PYN's goals align closely with the City's ongoing efforts to address the barriers to employment that face targeted populations such as disconnected youth and young adults. The City of Philadelphia will work with PYN and other partners to support re-engagement in education and the workforce of disconnected youth, and help expose these young people to potential career pathways in entrepreneurship. The City's team will collaborate with partners to connect youth to small business owners, provide assets to enhance the curriculum design, align the pilot with current entrepreneurial development resources, and provide opportunities with real-world problem-solving projects.

"The City of Philadelphia is committed to expanding opportunities for all Philadelphians to achieve economic security, and empowering disconnected youth is a vital part of those efforts," said Commerce Director Harold T. Epps. "The Youth Entrepreneurship Fund grant from the Aspen Forum will serve as an important tool to help young people gain the skills needed to pursue a career pathway in entrepreneurship. The City is excited to work with PYN and other partners on the execution of this innovative pilot program."

"Entrepreneurship is an increasingly important strategy as we work to prepare our young people for the future of work,” said Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, President and CEO of PYN. “Developing an entrepreneurial mindset instills critical skills needed in any career pathway, and we are very excited to provide more of these invaluable opportunities to young people in Philadelphia."

For additional details on each YEF grantee's project please visit

Education, Business and Community Leaders in Philadelphia Gather for GradNation Community Summit

Philadelphia Summit 50th of 100 Nationwide Examining Challenges and Solutions for Raising High School Graduation Rates and Preparing All Young People for Success

Philadelphia, PA - Community officials, business leaders, educators, parents and youth in Philadelphia announced plans today to examine local data and identify what's working and where challenges remain in the area's efforts to prepare young people for success in and out of school. Project U-Turn, a local youth initiative, hosted the Philadelphia GradNation Community Summit, entitled Rising to the Challenge: Expanding Citywide Commitment to Narrow the Skills Gap, which served as a launching pad for the development of a multi-year community action plan that outlines how Philadelphia will accelerate efforts to raise the high school graduation rate.

The Summit is the 50th of 100 that will be held around the country through 2016. The Summits are co-sponsored by America's Promise Alliance as part of its GradNation campaign, a national movement of dedicated individuals, organizations and communities working together to raise the national high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020 and increase postsecondary enrollment and completion.

"Being selected to host the 50th GradNation Community Summit in Philadelphia is an honor we are eager and excited to take on," said Project U-Turn Co-Chair, Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend. "Since its inception in 2006, the Project U-Turn collaborative has maintained a clear focus on increasing the high school graduation rates of young people and reengaging those who have disconnected from school. Hosting the GradNation Community Summit will shed light on the importance of research-driven initiatives that drive our work locally, while also focusing on the regional and national landscapes as it relates to dropout prevention, reengagement and workforce preparation to ensure more young people are graduating from high school and securing successful, meaningful careers."

America's Promise was founded in Philadelphia in 1997 at the Presidents' Summit for America's Future, which brought together thousands of leaders from across the country, including four living presidents, to refocus the nation's attention on the needs of children and youth. Together, they signed a Summit Declaration on the steps of Independence Hall that serves as the guiding force for the movement they started and for America's Promise Alliance.

"We are honored to be a part of the summit this year. With the improvement that we have seen since Project U-Turn's inception, continual strides in terms of graduation rates have been made. The graduation rate is slowly rising and we are doing everything we can to move the needle," said Project U-Turn co-chair, Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend.

The recently released 2015 Building a Grad Nation report announced that the national graduation rate now stands at 81.4 percent. For the third year in a row the country has been on track to meet the goal of 90 percent national graduation rate by the class of 2020.

While the city has seen significant increases in their graduation rates since 2006, Philadelphia is still about 15 percentage points lower than the national average.

"I'm proud to be here today at GradNation to talk about this very important issue of improving high school graduation rates and I commend this network on the tremendous progress made towards this goal in Philadelphia," said Governor Tom Wolf. "I'm committed to supporting the educational success of all students in Pennsylvania from pre-school through higher education."

The event was highlighted with other distinguished speakers, such as, Mayor Michael A. Nutter.

"Our Administration has been focused on improving the high school graduation rate and college attainment rate since day one so that our city's economy and quality of life may continue to grow. Addressing the skills gap is key to preparing our young people for success in higher-learning and the workforce," said Mayor Nutter. "I'm looking forward to the GradNation Summit and the positive next steps it will produce. I want to thank Project U-Turn, America's Promise Alliance and AT&T for bringing this summit to Philadelphia."

Other attendees include John Gomperts, President and CEO of America's Promise Alliance and Jennifer Kemp from the U.S Department of Labor.

"The Presidents' Summit for America's Future in Philadelphia signified more than the beginning of a campaign for America's youth; it provided a call to action to all Americans to take responsibility within their organizations and communities to make the promise of America real for every child," said John Gomperts, president & CEO, America's Promise. "The 50th GradNation Community Summit is an opportunity for us to recommit to that goal and advance the GradNation campaign so that all young people – in Philadelphia and beyond – can graduate from high school and have a chance to reach their full potential."

Research has shown that when young people have access to more of the essential academic, health and life resources, what America's Promise calls the "Five Promises" – caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, effective education and opportunities to help others – the more likely they are to succeed academically and socially. Summit attendees will discuss how Philadelphia can better align programs supporting youth around these Five Promises.

The premier sponsor of the national GradNation Community Summits initiative is AT&T, whose support is part of AT&T Aspire, the company's $350 million commitment to graduate more students from high school ready for college and career. The other national sponsor is Southwest Airlines. Local sponsors for the event include IBM, Cozen O'Conner and Accenture.

"The business community has a huge stake in this issue, and working with educators, parents and nonprofits at the local level is the best way to ensure we stay on track. Our collective future depends on it, and it will take all of us working together to achieve it," commented J. Michael Schweder, president, AT&T Mid Atlantic.

For more information and to learn how to get involved visit To learn more about Project U-Turn visit


About Project U-Turn
Project U-Turn is a citywide campaign to understand, focus public attention on and, most importantly, resolve Philadelphia's dropout crisis through the use of a collective impact strategy. Project U-Turn is led by a cross-sector collaborative with representation from the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), the Mayor's Office of Education (MOE), the city's Department of Human Services (DHS), family court, local foundations, and youth advocacy groups, as well as young people. The Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) is the backbone organization for the effort.

About America's Promise Alliance
America's Promise Alliance leads more than 400 organizations, communities and individuals dedicated to making the promise of America real for every child. As its signature effort, the GradNation campaign mobilizes Americans to increase the on-time high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020 and prepare young people for postsecondary enrollment and the 21st century workforce.

Jobs for the Future and Aspen Institute Award $6 Million to Philadelphia Youth Network on Behalf of Project U-Turn Collaborative

Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN), a nonprofit intermediary dedicated to equipping young people for academic achievement, economic opportunity and personal success is one of seven community collaborative grantees to receive three-year grants of $240,000-$270,000 per year to dramatically improve education and employment outcomes for opportunity youth, including young men of color, in communities across the country. Opportunity Youth is a term used to describe the 6.7 million young people—between the ages of 16 to 24 in the United States—who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market.

The awards were made by Jobs for the Future (JFF) and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Service (AFCS) in response to President Obama's call to action in launching My Brother's Keeper to promote successful outcomes for boys and men of color. Grant award recipients were selected after a rigorous and collaborative evaluation by JFF and AFCS. The grantees, representing a diverse portfolio of communities, are taking a cross-system, cross-sector approach towards improving outcomes for young people, with a particular focus on boys and men of color.

PYN serves as the backbone for the Project U-Turn collaborative, a cross-sector campaign focused on dropout prevention and re-engagement, and will work with members to implement and expand post-secondary bridging services at four E3 Centers to increase post-secondary persistence and success. E3 Centers are neighborhood-based service sites designed to help lower-skilled out-of-school youth and youth returning from juvenile placement to build literacy, numeracy, and 21st-century skills, attain a high school credential, and prepare for post-secondary education and careers. These Centers serve a high concentration of boys and men of color.

"The OYIF SIF will help us create a structured post-secondary bridging program that ensures a smoother pathway from secondary to post-secondary credential attainment for some of Philadelphia's most vulnerable young people," said Philadelphia Youth Network President and CEO, Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend. "All of the partners involved in this work are thrilled to accept this opportunity. With this investment, the E3 centers will help youth transition into their post-secondary choice and build successful futures filled with economic prosperity and fulfillment."

These grants are funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) through its Social Innovation Fund (SIF). Launched by President Obama in 2009, the SIF tackles the difficult work of social change by applying innovative solutions that work, and making them work for more people. By embracing evidence-based strategies, the SIF is leading the way in guiding how government makes social change investments. In 2014 SIF grant competitions, CNCS prioritized "Traditionally Unserved and Underrepresented Geographic Areas and Populations" and "Presidential Initiatives to Expand Access to Opportunity," awarding almost $18 million in grants to organizations that focused on My Brother's Keeper priorities.

"The President has made investing in evidence-based interventions or 'what works' a key priority of his Administration and the My Brother's Keeper initiative. We applaud Jobs for the Future and the Aspen Institute on its selection of Social Innovation Fund grantees that have a track record of measurable impact, and a plan to get results and create clear pathways to college and career for young people in greatest need," said Michael Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of Cabinet Affairs for My Brother's Keeper.

It is estimated that the 6.7 million opportunity youth cost our country $250 billion annually in lost revenue, earnings, and increased social services. JFF and AFCS have selected a total of seven communities to partner with in an effort to build education and career pathways for these unemployed or underemployed young people.


Project U-Turn is a citywide campaign to understand, focus public attention on and, most importantly, resolve Philadelphia's dropout crisis. It is led by a citywide collaborative whose members include representatives of the School District, City agencies, foundations, youth-serving organizations, parents and young people themselves. The collaborative is managed by the Philadelphia Youth Network, and operates as a subcommittee of the Philadelphia Council for College and Career Success.

Jobs for the Future is a national nonprofit organization that works to ensure economic opportunity for all. We develop innovative career pathways and public policies, resulting in increased college readiness and success for students and a more skilled workforce for employers. For over 30 years, JFF has been a leader in building connections between education and work that expand opportunity and strengthen our economy. For more information, visit:

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service and champions community solutions through its AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Social Innovation Fund, and Volunteer Generation Fund programs, and leads the President's national call to service initiative, United We Serve. For more information, visit

My Brother's Keeper Philadelphia

Seeking to improve outcomes for young people nationwide, particularly for boys and young men of color, President Obama established the My Brother's Keeper (MBK) Challenge In September 2014. The challenge asks local leaders to implement a coherent "cradle-to-college-and-career strategy" for those individuals in their community who now lag behind their peers. It emphasizes using existing, evidence-based programs to develop a sustainable action plan. It calls upon community leaders to identify and partner with the people who run these programs in order to assess local needs and existing assets, determine collective priorities, and set common goals for improvement.

Under the current administration of Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Philadelphia has seen its on-time high school graduation rate increase by 12 percent. Despite these significant strides, the City still trails the national average (80%) by 15 percentage points. While it's important for us to recognize Philadelphia's recent success in increasing on-time high school graduation rates, it is critical to ensure that all youth graduate from high school. We must also close the skills gap between high school, and even college graduates, and the demands of local and national employers.

The campaign to reach MBK Milestone 3: Ensure All Youth Graduate from High School, will be led by Project U-Turn, Philadelphia's collaborative approach to dropout prevention, which is managed by the Philadelphia Youth Network. Through strategic partnerships with its key systems partners, Project U-Turn will coordinate and influence action steps to bring policy, programmatic interventions and resources to scale to support the emotional and academic needs of vulnerable populations of students and those with heightened risks of disconnection, including Black and Latino males, and those in foster care and juvenile justice systems.

Read the full MBK Philadelphia Action Plan

Philadelphia GradNation Summit

Project U-Turn and America's Promise Alliance will co-host the Philadelphia GradNation Summit on Friday, June 12th at Chemical Heritage Foundation. America's Promise Alliance is working with community partners to convene 100 GradNation Community Summits across the country through 2016. The GradNation Community Summits will hasten the United States' progress towards reaching the GradNation campaign goals. America's Promise's goal for the community summits is to fuel local collaborative action to increase high school graduation rates.

The summit theme, Rising to the Challenge: Expanding Citywide Commitment to Narrow the Skills Gap will address narrowing the skills gap between secondary education, college and Philadelphia's workforce to ensure our young people are prepared for economic success through four main avenues: Reengagement; Enriched Preparation; Post-Secondary Bridging; Workforce Preparation/Career Exposure.

During the summit, we will assess progress made towards narrowing the skills gap, celebrate our successes and refocus on the challenges that lie ahead. Representatives from various sectors will be invited to forge connections by joining local and national organizations and community leaders uniting to empower more young Philadelphians to graduate from high school on time and prepare for college, careers and successful futures. The summit will conclude with a Call to Action to drive momentum and coordinated action from all stakeholders in attendance. The ultimate measure of success will be an increase in awareness, engagement, sustained action and ultimately greater impact to inspire and mobilize all segments of the community to work toward better educational and economic outcomes for youth.

E3 Centers Featured in Center for Promise White Paper

In December, the Center for Promise (America's Promise Alliance), in collaboration with Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences released Back to School: Exploring Promising Practices for Re-Engaging Young People in Secondary Education a white paper on re-engagement as a follow-up to the 'Don't Call Them Dropouts' report, released in May of 2014. In October, seven youth from three of the Philadelphia's E3 Centers (Center City, West and Southwest) participated in a focus group facilitated by the Center for Promise to share their views on reengagement and their individual experiences as E3 students. E3 was one of eight programs featured in the publication, which focuses on the role that initiatives like Project U-Turn play in the reengagement process and is designed as a resource for educators, practitioners, community stakeholders, communications professionals and policymakers interested in supporting out-of-school youth who wish to obtain a high school credential. The paper also explores ways to strengthen and expand reengagement options for young people who need more time or alternative pathways to finish school.

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