Cradle to Career Engaging Stakeholders to Improve Education in Pima County

Tucson, AZ | Submitted by Amanda Kucich

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Pima County is a complex mixture of urban centers, border towns, rural farming communities, reservation lands, and more. Since 2015, a partnership of community stakeholders has been working together to connect the dots and ensure that every student in the county has the chance to receive a quality education, every step of the way, regardless of their location or background.

The Cradle to Career (C2C) Partnership is a diverse network that includes K-12 schools and districts, nonprofits, business, civic, faith and philanthropic organizations that are committed to pursuing educational outcomes for children. By preparing every child for success in school and life, they aim to ensure the economic vitality of the community.

It’s no small feat since there are more than 340,000 youth working their way through the education pipeline in Pima County. An estimated 30 percent of these youth are living in poverty. To achieve success for all youth, C2C analyzes data to inform action, communicates best practices, facilitates community ownership of shared results and grows capacities of education systems and stakeholders.

With a focus on three key areas – kindergarten readiness, high school graduation and the re-engagement of opportunity youth (16-24-year-olds not in school or work) – C2C works with partners to identify effective practices, spread what works and take it to scale, all supported by data.

In the area of kindergarten readiness, C2C wants to see every child prepared for school. By monitoring how many 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in high quality early learning programs, they get an approximation of kindergarten readiness in the area. The good news is that 1 in 5 children are now enrolled in quality early learning, versus 1 in 6 a year ago. However, that means there are more than 18,200 youngsters who are still missing out on getting a better start on their education.

Assuring that every young person graduates from high school ready for further education or a career is critical to their long-term well-being. The Cradle to Career team is monitoring 4- and 5-year graduation rates and helping to identify ways to keep young students on-track, particularly in math achievement and chronic absenteeism. In the past year, the four-year graduation rate increased to nearly 75 percent from 71 percent, with increases for most subgroups.

To engage opportunity youth ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor working, Cradle to Career has established a re-engagement center based on nationally established evidence-based practices. This hub will help young people reconnect to education and career pathways. In 2015, there were more than 25,000 16-24-year-olds in Pima County that were not in school nor working. At the center, youth have a caring, supportive adult who helps them determine how best to overcome the challenges that separated them from school or work in the first place. It has already served more than 100 youth, aided by partnerships with public and private charter school districts, workforce development programs, housing agencies and mental health services.

The district superintendents involved in the program hail the opportunity to connect with their colleagues and share best practices. What’s more, Cradle to Career is helping education professionals look at their data differently and examine ways to improve learning outcomes based on that data. It’s an effort that will improve the quality of life for all Pima County residents. After all, a successful journey through the education pipeline ends with attaining a career that leads to social and economic mobility, ensuring individuals and our community thrive.

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