When life circumstances create challenges for New York City high school students, and they are unable to manage the traditional high school timetable, the city’s transfer high schools are a valuable alternative. A subset of high schools that offer flexible classroom hours and graduation time horizons up to 21 years of age, transfer schools offer more than a path to a diploma and convenient scheduling. For students who need to work day jobs to support the family, or themselves, and are under-credited and at risk of aging-out of the public school system, the schools can facilitate academic and social supports including post-secondary planning. At three of these schools, the nonprofit Comprehensive Youth Development (CYD) steps in to offer additional support including tutoring, mentoring, social services, and certifications. The Covid disruption and recent influx of immigrants have created new challenges.
“I say we are in the Covid transition now,” said CYD Executive Director Michael A. Roberts, MSW. “We are feeling the effects on families where students put their education on hold to take on jobs or other roles.”
Chalkbeat, a non-profit news organization covering education issues, noted that during Covid, the number of students attending transfer high schools fell 22% compared with a 5% decline at traditional high schools. This put transfer schools in danger of being closed or merged. “Luckily we are seeing that trend reverse, as older students are now coming back to the table and realizing the importance of finishing high school,” said Michael.
The number of students in transfer high schools has also been swelled by a surge in the immigrant population. “In a lot of cases, these are young adults who did not come here with a Mom or Dad,” explains Michael. “They are trying to assimilate into a new culture, support themselves, and get a degree when they speak limited English.” Attracting enough bilingual instructors is only part of the challenge. “A lot of these students have no transcript, so we don’t even know where they are academically,” said Michael. “The way we find out is a sink or swim type of assessment.”
The need for resources is pressing and the competition for funding is fierce. “There are a lot of educational alternatives for donors to consider,” says Michael. “Often, money goes to young school students, where results are measured across many years and it may appear there is more opportunity for meaningful change. Conversely, we have a small window to take a group of young adults and, in many cases, affect a turnaround story that overcomes a lot of challenges while needing to produce quick results.”
That urgency is not lost on Mizuho Equity Research Analyst John Baumgartner, who sits on the Board at CYD and on its Strategic Initiatives and Fundraising committees. “My father was a Romanian immigrant who didn’t speak English when he came to the US as a child, yet he overcame many obstacles and attended night school to get a degree as an engineer while supporting our family. I see a lot of that drive in the students we help and am honored to be part of CYD’s determination to help students succeed.”
In such a competitive fundraising market, and with the stakes so high for so many, Michael realizes you need to be bold. “When I applied for the job they asked me what my leadership style was and I said courageous. And I need courageous people around me if we are to make a substantial impact.”
The CYD model looks for pathways to success despite the surprising limitations of traditional schooling. “Do you know that in 2023, computer science is still not taught in all of the city’s public high schools?” says Michael, as if no matter how many times he has said it before, the concept still strikes him with fresh disbelief. “We need to provide the skills, to give students tools to succeed in employment, including: digital literacy like learning Microsoft Office, customer service, time management, and financial literacy.”
That is where the Mizuho USA Foundation has stepped in, supporting the Preparation Meets Opportunity program that provides workplace readiness training for 100 students at Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School (MCNDHS), a majority-immigrant, high-need public transfer school. Students at MCNDHS have the opportunity to participate in the NYC Department of Education’s Learning to Work (LTW) program, which provides minimum-wage salaries for students in internships. Based on feedback from internship providers and employers, CYD recognized a need for students to receive training in essential workplace skills in order to succeed in their internships and graduate prepared for employment. The goal of Preparation Meets Opportunity is to meet this need and help bridge the equity gap students face in attaining employment. Mizuho funding enables CYD to provide robust preparation in ‘professional skills’ for employment, as well as basic digital and financial literacy, for students participating in LTW internships.
“When teachers and our staff stress the importance of financial responsibility and workplace skills, it’s as if we are the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons. They hear ‘wah wah wah,’” laughs Michael. “But when they hear it from successful professionals, like they did at a recent financial education workshop at Mizuho’s offices, suddenly it is real world advice they listen to!”
If you are interested in finding out more about Comprehensive Youth Development, Inc. or to donate money or time, please contact them at [email protected].