The number of students taking advantage of postsecondary education opportunities while committed to the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services is growing significantly year on year. In 2018, 1 in 10 youth committed to DYS – 98 students – took postsecondary courses. Thanks to new programming, many DYS students can now consider matriculating into college programs before they transition back to the community.
Wendy Taylor, Coordinator of Student Services and Postsecondary Programming for CES says, “Student interest is contagious, and as students see other students succeed in the program, they get interested themselves.” She notes that postsecondary programming for youth committed to DYS is changing rapidly in response to students’ needs. The average age of youth committed to DYS has been increasing, and the number of young people entering the program at 18 or older was over 5 times higher in 2018 than it was in 2014.
Planning for their futures and their smooth transitions back to their respective communities has also evolved. The work to plan systematically for academic and career goals is part of the curriculum. Youth in DYS begin developing their future goals and aspirations as soon as they enter the system. To encourage intentional thought about their futures, CES provides them with the information and support they need to set goals and make a plan.
For many students, explicit and structured planning for college is new. The process, facilitated by experienced Education and Career Counselors and their teachers, can be surprising and emotional, especially if neither the youth nor the parents have thought that college is possible.
Beginning in the fall of 2018, a new College Program allows students to dual enroll or enroll in college and earn up to 12 college credits. Students can matriculate in programs that align with their college and career goals and labor market trends. Extensive planning and groundwork were necessary to establish this program, including academic supports such as math and English instruction for college readiness, navigating college bureaucracy, time management and study skills, and financial planning for college. Education and Career Counselors help students to interface with their college, understand what is needed, fill out forms and complete applications, and get supplies for their courses. They provide the connection between the community, the colleges, the school districts, and the families working with the caring adults that it takes to make this happen.
“We have more kids coming in with high school diplomas and it’s amazing to see them transition to believing postsecondary education is an option for them. They believe in themselves as college-going students, and that’s been a huge success over the past few years,” says Jennifer Graves, Lead Education and Career Counselor. To date, four colleges have formalized relationships in place with DYS: Bunker Hill community College, Holyoke Community College, Quincy College, and Urban College in Boston.
“One of the most valuable things we can do in this work is to believe in our students’ abilities to aspire and reach their goals, and to keep believing in that all the way through. We believe they can be college bound if they desire it,” says Taylor.