2010 Local Grant Winners
This school year saw a change in ten communities across the country. As part of the Grad Nation campaign, America’s Promise Alliance and AT&T offered an opportunity for high school students to make a difference in their schools and neighborhoods through the My Idea Grants. Part of the structure of this first time program was the ability for a select group of cities, already committed to increasing graduation rates, to extend that action to students.
“I learned how to talk to my peers and encouraged them to pursue their passions and reach out to their community,” said a My Idea Grants youth leader.
The participating communities were Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Jackson, Louisville, Nashville, New York, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C. A local grant manager at an area agency in each city took on the challenge of offering a grant program to high school youth to create projects for more of their peers to graduate on time.
The 65 funded projects demonstrated a huge range of ideas and captured the insight and creativity of the young leaders. Each project had a budget of $500-$1500 and was youth-led but supported by a caring adult and local organization or school. One Local Grant Manager said it best by saying, “if we focus our energy on the strengths the students possess and bring them to the table with leaders in the education field, and highlight in the media the great things that are happening, then our education system will improve.”
While each idea was unique, several themes emerged on where and how youth Idea Leaders wanted to make change.
The fifth Promise of “opportunity to serve others” was demonstrated in the significant number of projects. Mentoring either as a specific program or indirect element can be found in many of these projects. Youth leaders want to be the mentors for underclassmen, middle school students, or for their peers who are struggling. Idea Leaders stepped up to provide one on one, personal relationships.
High School Transition
America Promise Alliance utilizes 9yh grade promotion as one of Grad Nation campaign national indicators. Idea Leaders are very aware of this major transition point influence on graduation rates. Many projects focused on the transition to high school either through working with middle school students or first year high school students.
While relationships were central to almost all of the projects, several used technology to further their goals. Students Helping Students Be Successful used a computer software system to allow students to gain needed class credits. Access to the system was combined with peer to peer support. Students also reached out to other youth in Call In Call Out to Dropouts where youth called truant students to ask them to return to school. Multiple programs, including How Did I Get Here?, used video to spread their message to peers. Don’t Miss Out recorded classes and made them available online to students who were absent or needed extra help.
Positive Peer Pressure
Throughout the projects the peer to peer interaction was paramount. Discussions about good decisions were a recurring theme. Some projects focused on specific decision areas like sexual health or violence. Others had a more academic focus on course requirements or college preparedness. Others encouraged school engagement through volunteerism, career exploration, or unique learning experiences. Many youth know the influence they can have on their peers and chose to use positive peer pressure to encourage students to graduate.
Action in School
While several projects had a strong focus during out of school time, a majority of projects had some element take place in their school (over 50 percent). This is significant because America’s Promise Alliance often hears how difficult it is for community members or partner programs to have an impact on students in schools. Many groups desire access to youth during the day or even the ability to recruit students for out of school time projects. Since the My Idea projects are youth-led, the project leaders are in the school. The ability to reach a widely diverse group of students or to have an impact on school culture are much easier with this structure.
In addition to the competition in the ten targeted communities, over 30 projects were awarded grants through a national competition for year-long projects.