San Diego Youth Opportunity Pathways Intiative

Over one in six young adults in the United States is neither actively advancing in school nor in the labor market.

Too often in education, the work is done in disconnected silos. Early learning does not connect with the primary grades, nor do high schools align well with institutions of higher education. Community resources that are intended to help kids are often completely walled off from teachers and school leaders. Parents may or may not be engaged; the same is the case for many communities. So much power is wasted because there is no easy or organized way to work together. We have many high-quality programs and individual schools, but somehow they don’t add up to a highly effective cradle-to-college-and-career system. The result is that thousands of students are left behind and fall through the cracks.


Over one in six young adults in the United States is neither actively advancing in school nor in the labor market. In 2015, 53,545 San Diego County youth, ages 16-24, were not presently enrolled in school or working and had no degree beyond a high school diploma or GED. This issue is particularly concentrated in low-income areas. Disparities are especially evident in neighborhoods within City Districts 4, 8, and 9; and County Districts 1 and 4. Despite these challenges, there are existing resources and a readiness to thrive in these communities. Because of this, the Youth Opportunity Pathways Initiative (PATHWAYS) will pilot efforts to improve opportunities for youth in these neighborhoods.


The PATHWAYS Initiative is a youth-centered approach to providing educational and stabilization support to Opportunity Youth (16-24 year olds who are disconnected from education, training and employment). In order to get back on track and to obtain a high school credential, post-secondary certification and a living wage job, youth will be involved in various youth development best practices including mentoring, case management and comprehensive wrap around services. Guided by mentors, each young person will play an active role in creating a personalized pathway to achieving educational, training and employment success based on interest and ability. Utilizing a collective impact approach, a collaborative has been established (Child Welfare, Probation, Unified School District, Community College District, San Diego Workforce Partnership, Community Based Organizations, Philanthropy, Businesses, Youth and Elected Officials) to implement a pathway model that identifies, supports, and reconnects Opportunity Youth to programs and services that ultimately lead to careers. With public and private funding from The Aspen Institute’s Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund, The California Endowment, The Parker Foundation, San Diego Workforce Partnership, and San Diego Unified School District – PATHWAYS includes the following components:

  1. Outreach and reengagement. An outreach strategy (in partnership with San Diego Unified School District and Urban League of San Diego) to instill hope and interest in students who are at severe risk of dropping out of school and those who have recently dropped out – by assessment of their educational, support, and stabilization needs.
  2. Educational momentum. Creating opportunities for initial success by developing individual academic plans and identifying the educational environment that is the “best fit” for each youth. This includes programs that offer preparation for, and bridges to, postsecondary success.
  3. Certification, Credentialing, & Employment. Building experience and confidence by developing pathways to internships, apprenticeships, industry certifications, and placement in San Diego’s high demand careers.
  4. Youth Development, Support, & Stabilization Services. Provide life skills support through mentoring and strong peer networks. Provide wrap around case management services based on needs (in partnership with Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funded service providers).


San Diego Youth Development Office (YDO) serves as the backbone organization to convene, connect, and engage the collaborative. This is done through a common understanding of the problem, a coordinated approach to solutions, accountability, shared measurements, and open and continuous communication. As one of 22 sites in the national Opportunity Youth Network – San Diego will not only reconnect local youth to education, training, and employment – but will also “move the needle” by contributing data and outcomes to influence national policy and practice.


The PATHWAYS theory of change is adapted from the “Multiple Pathways to Postsecondary Credentials and Labor-Market Success” model developed by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), a policy solutions and systems change organization seeking to improve the lives of low-income people. The original model was based on rigorous research conducted by MDRC, a nationally renowned education and social policy research organization, for the Youth Opportunity (YO) grants (authorized under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998). With input from the PATHWAYS collaborative, the model reflects specific pathways to effective programs and services available to San Diego’s Opportunity Youth. This theory of change will be piloted during 2014-2017.


PATHWAYS utilizes a Reengagement approach as its program model to ensure consistency in the delivery of services (i.e., fidelity), inform staff training and support needs, and align with evaluation needs. Reengagement includes:

  • Outreach: Build on existing assets to identify youth
    • The San Diego Unified School District’s (SDUSD) Office of Dropout Prevention selected 150 youth enrolled in school with addresses in the target neighborhoods (evenly distributed), who are at severe risk of dropout due to chronic absences, credit deficiency, low reading and math skills and English language and citizenship proficiency.
  • SDUSD also provided to the WIA Service Provider (Urban League of San Diego) a list of recent dropouts with addresses in the target neighborhoods, aiming to recruit 100 out-of-school youth.
    • Assessment tools are administered to inform the youth’s plan. The tools assess skills, needs, and interests. Tools may include:
      • San Diego Risk and Resiliency Checkup (SDRRC);
      • SDUSD Check & Connect (C&C) assessment; and,
      • Job For the Future’s Back on Track Through College, an on-line assessment tool which measures the quality of educational options and their capacity to connect students to college and good jobs.
  • Check and Connect Mentor
    • Dedicated school district employee position uses the Check & Connect Student Engagement Intervention Model.
    • Develops an educational plan with youth, guided by the assessment tool(s) administered to the OY;
    • Provides comprehensive referrals to address the “Earn, Learn, Support, Stabilize” holistic approach;
    • Checks-in regularly to address and refine the educational plan; and is,
    • Available to be part of other systems’ teams for multi-disciplinary case management.
    • Check & Connect Mentors and Opportunity Coaches have weekly meetings as a group to share results and problem-solve emerging issues in the service delivery pathways.
  • Opportunity Coach
    • Case manager position provides supportive services, individual service strategies, case management, educational services, work-readiness training, work preparation and work-based opportunities, and youth development services.
    • Opportunity Coaches and Check & Connect Mentors have weekly meetings as a group to share results and problem-solve emerging issues in the service delivery pathways.


Reengagement Pilot Initiative Evaluation Report

This evaluation report looks at the development of the PATHWAYS collaborative operating structure, the development and implementation of a 3-year Reengagement Pilot Program, and Opportunity Youth outcomes.


Reengagement Pilot Program Summary Evaluation Report

This summary evaluation report highlights the results of a 3-year Reengagement Pilot program including demographic profile, services provided, results and lessons learned.



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