STS’ services for children, youth, and young adults are needed now more than ever before. The proportion of families living below the federal poverty line in Brookline has increased from 9.3% in 2000 to 13.1% in 2014 (Brookline Community Foundation, “Understanding Brookline, A Report on Poverty,” 2014).
Extended Learning programs such as that offered by Steps, including after school and summer programs, help close the learning gap between children in poverty and their middle class peers. Children who do not have access to high quality and affordable programs have been shown to be more likely to drop out of school, have poor attendance, have lower grades, and engage in risky activities for adolescents (National Education Association Policy Brief, “Closing the Gap Through Extended Learning Opportunities”, 2008).
When our students move on to high school, there is also a lack of meaningful paid training opportunities for them, a gap in their knowledge about career and college opportunities, and a lack of mentoring relationships and professional networks available to them. A review of employment training programs found that providing low-income youth with summer employment opportunities had positive effects beyond skill-building, networking, and income enhancement. These effects ranged from increased in-school attendance, improved academic scores, and reduced unsafe behaviors (Brookings, “Expanding Summer Employment Opportunities for Low-Income Youth”, 2014). Steps to Success students deeply value not only the experiences they receive through their internships, but the opportunity to earn money. For a family of four making $27,950 or less (the federal definition of extremely low-income household), $2000 represents 7% of total household income!
This need for continued advocacy and support for students from low-income backgrounds continues into college. According to the Pell Institute, “Considering the personal hurdles that low-income, first-generation students must overcome to succeed in college, they also need and benefit from social support services, including academic advising, personal and career counseling, and mentoring programs. In particular, they benefit from participation in special programs that target at-risk populations, such as low-income, minority, and first-generation students. Such programs “scale down” the college experience by providing personalized attention, services, and referrals from dedicated staff who serve as “first responders” to students’ needs” (The Pell Institute, “Moving Beyond Access”, 2008). When we realized that these are the types of needs that our students have themselves, Steps created the College Success Initiative to address these barriers to college access and success.