Lake Havasu City Youth Council Orchestrates Project: We OutCare to Improve Teacher Retention

Lake Havasu City, AZ | Submitted by Jerri Bracamonte

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Schools all over the state are facing an unprecedented teacher shortage. And Lake Havasu City is no exception – in 2015 alone local schools lost 52 teachers. At a time when the Center for the Future of Arizona was seeking ways for communities to improve local civic health, the Havasu Youth Advisory Council (HYAC) found a way to do just that.

HYAC, a unique program of Lake Havasu City, allows youth to have a voice in city council’s decision-making process. According to Mayor Mark S. Nexsen, HYAC helps to “shape the future of Lake Havasu City by bringing youth issues to the City Council’s attention, aiding Council in understanding youth’s concerns, and promoting positive change in Lake Havasu City through action and involvement. The youth truly enjoy the opportunity that they have to help others in their community and make new friends citywide and statewide while providing a valuable service to Lake Havasu City.”

HYAC accepted a challenge to improve local civic health and won the seed money to implement their ideas. Project: We OutCare was born as a result. The youth advisory council’s eight representatives, Cheyenne Halfacre-Buie, Ella Wofford, Tatum Bracamonte, Hayden Lintz, Carla Betancourt, Jersey Orias, Stephanie Nelson, and Garrett McNerney wanted to aid teachers, without becoming embroiled in the politics of the day. High schoolers had already orchestrated a walk-out in support of local teachers and community sentiment was mixed. After discussing the issue with key stakeholders, the team realized that most educators hadn’t left as a result of pay, but rather because they didn’t feel part of the community. Pay and benefits weren’t competitive with neighboring districts, which didn’t help, but the council had limited influence over those issues. To help bridge the gap between the community and the teachers, HYAC developed both a short-term program and then a long-term effort.

In the short term, the council asked local residents and businesses to “out care” them by donating essential school supplies such as pencils, markers, folders, desk organizers, and student incentives. Students used local news outlets and social media channels to get the word out and even thanked supporters online. They visited local clubs and organizations to make the ask in person and partnered with a non-profit foundation, K12 Foundation LHUSD#1, as a pass through for donations and tax credit for donors, who in turn also donated money to their project.

Many of the materials were branded, so that teachers could get to know local businesses. These donations were assembled into welcome packages and personally delivered to the 42 new hires. Some business owners were even generous enough to donate money, which was allocated for the long-term efforts. The effort was very well received in the community: roughly $5,000 in donated school supplies and gift certificates filled the new teacher welcome care packages and another $5,000 in cash was donated for their long term program.

But that was just the beginning. To make a long-term impact, HYAC created a website where local educators can introduce themselves to the community and create a classroom supply wish list from Amazon online, allowing local businesses, parents and community members to help year-round. Thanks to the generosity of local businesses, the site already has enough funding to run for the next five years. The site will launch this fall.

Project: We OutCare wasn’t just a passing notion for students in the HYAC. The students worked on this project over their summer vacations and outside of their normal school, sports, work and other club obligations. It was a real-life opportunity that taught them everything about becoming a civically engaged person-communication, collaboration, and passion, all while filling a vital public need to support their teachers.

And their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Along with successful bond and override passages in November of 2016, the project played a pivotal role in contributing to the retention of their teachers. Certified teacher turnover reduced from 22% for 2016-17 school year to only 8% for 2017-18 school year.

“I feel that our community has given back to our teachers, and that has helped our teachers feel at home. As a student, this is so important to me because education is important to me, and that all starts with teachers,” said HYAC Freshman member Ella Wofford.

“It was an incredible experience and I loved bringing our local problem to the forefront to be supported and awarded money to help. Our youth council was energized and ready to reach out to the community to improve quality teacher retention in Lake Havasu City,” said HYAC Senior member Stephanie Nelson.

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