Policy Corner: Janet Forbush on latest policy implications for mentoring

Written by Janet Forbush, Senior Advisor with the Center for the Advancement of Mentoring

March 2017


The frenzy of current public policy activity at all levels of government as well as in the private sector has set an entirely new stage for what we have come to know as “March Madness.”  Though readers of the Chronicle might not be following any particular NCAA basketball team this spring, it is important for all of us as advocates on behalf of children, youth, and families to be cognizant of potentially dramatic forthcoming changes to the nature of dollar support coming into our communities and individual pocketbooks to serve those in need.  Hence, this column keys in on some of the proposed shifts in resource allocation and priorities to help inform you as to how you can lend your much needed voice to the advocacy choirs we need at local, state, and national levels.


Federal Developments

In mid-March the Trump administration released a budget blueprint describing extensive cuts for several programs and agencies across the federal landscape. This document is not a user-friendly ‘read’ for children, youth, and family advocates.  Rather, it is a disturbing avoidance of what budgets should articulate in terms of moral commitment to citizens… especially the vulnerable.  The good news is that it is only a blueprint which appears to have been drafted without the customary sensibility often associated with architects.

Nine programs are slated for elimination in this blueprint.  They include those previously identified in the ‘Policy Column’ such as the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Appalachian Regional Commission.  The blueprint more fully describes priorities of the administration to invest in national security, increased military spending, and, efforts to combat illegal entry into the United States.  Other proposed cuts are Community Development Block Grants currently overseen by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); the Legal Services Corporation; National Endowment for the Arts; and, programs within the US Department of Education supporting 21st Century Learning Centers.  Consequential reductions to TRIO and GEAR UP are also proposed.

Within the US Department of Justice, grant programs that support mentoring appear at risk and this would include the current pending $120m request.  Readers should be aware that action on the budget will need to be taken before the end of April to keep the government open as we are now in the closing weeks of a Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by the previous Congress.

Language in the Department of Labor section of the blueprint states the following “Improves Job Corps for the disadvantaged youth it serves by closing centers that do a poor job educating and preparing students for jobs.”  No specific references to studies or the basis on which this comment is drawn are provided (p.31 of blueprint).

Exemplary Urban School Principal as Mentor-in-Chief

Gregory Jones is the principal of Kenwood Academy High School.  He has headed Kenwood, which is located in the Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago, since 2012.  Kenwood is one of 115 schools in the Chicago Public Schools system.  The graduation rate at Kenwood was 74 percent in 2012 when Jones became the principal and reached 85 percent last year.

The formula for success at the Kenwood Academy High School is tied to the professional goal of Principal Jones, who set upon a path to make Kenwood an outstanding school despite all of the challenges the students face.  His first priority was on academics while also cultivating an attitude among students where they “want to come to school.” He has created this environment for students, parents, teachers and staff based on accountability and a sense of community.   There is notable city and district level support for the engagement of school principals in fostering this level of connection within their buildings.

Janice Jackson, Chicago’s chief education officer and previously the principal of two local high schools, was recently quoted as saying “our principals are the most accountable people in this system.”  And there is support from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, elected Mayor in 2011, who has had a keen, long-time policy interest in education, and who feels that principals need to be active participants in discussions around local education policy.  Ms. Jackson highlights the important role principals play in helping to improve teaching given their direct involvement with individual teachers.  This is far more difficult to accomplish from the district level.  And, the impact is showing improved outcomes for students.  Chicago’s high school graduation rate has climbed faster than the national rate.

The Kenwood Academy High School website characterizes the school as “A National Leader in Scholarship Acquisition Where A World-Class Public Education Leads to a High Quality, No Cost College Education.”  The 2015 graduating class of 371 students garnered an extraordinary $39.6 million in scholarship money.  Ariana Alexander, the valedictorian in in 2015, raised over $3m and is now a student at the University of Pennsylvania.  (See: http://www.kenwoodacademy.org/apps/staff/)


Mentoring and Youth Advocacy on Behalf of Immigrant Youth in the States/Local Level

The Nation’s top schools chiefs continued to message during their winter meeting held in Washington, DC in March that they are opposed to any hint of immigration enforcement inside their buildings.  Some states and local communities have begun to develop legislation to bar school police officers in the state from assisting immigration authorities.  California has new ‘sanctuary state legislation’ now in place.  On March 21, New York City officials detailed their plan to block immigration agents from schools unless they have a warrant.

How does this relate to mentors and mentoring program staff?  There are situations that have already occurred, and are likely going to occur, in some agencies and program serving a high number of immigrant students where school attendance has begun to taper off.  Parents and caregivers, particularly those who are undocumented, are concerned about what will happen to their children if they are in school.  Mentors who regularly meet with their mentee in a school environment or site-based program may experience this situation.

Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools offers a compelling story about why he added his district to the “sanctuary schools” movement.  He acknowledge that he himself was once an undocumented immigrant and admits that he “sees himself in the eyes of our kids.”  The Miami-Dade school board unanimously passed legislation in January for the rights of undocumented youth.  While Carvalho says he has been assured by federal officials they have no intention of entering schools or making arrests on school campuses, he remains concerned about the number of families now coping with an extraordinary degree of deportation stress.


March is National Reading Month!

There has been considerable attention to the phrase “Make America Great Again” over the past year or more.  The President of the Ford Foundation delivered the annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Policy in late March at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.  His inspiring life story and connection to the arts and philanthropy is eloquently stated in his address.  Refer to: http://www.fordfoundation.org/library/speeches/the-art-of-democracy-creative expression-and-american-greatness.

Brian Gallagher, President and CEO of United Way Worldwide is likely known to many of the readers of the Chronicle.  He was one of six founders of America’s Promise Alliance launched nearly 20 years ago.  He has a long-standing commitment to mentoring and a refreshing, energizing summary of his lifetime exposure to mentoring is accessible on the America’s Promise Alliance website.  Refer to http://www.americaspromise.org/opinion/making-kids-choices-easier