We are still sitting in the powerful energy of our Transition Years gathering on December 14th, and we've had many requests from folks for a recap of the meeting, both from those who couldn't be there and those who joined us. We had seventy - yes, 70 - folks show up to be part of the conversation. We (Annie Leavitt, Shawn Proctor and Nadia Davila) designed the conversation to be a cross-sector and cross-network conversation, as a joint meeting of the Elementary School OST Network (ESON), the Middle School Network (MSN) and Reaching All Youth (RAY), to address something we have known about for a long time. Naturally, young people and families face difficulties in the transitions between stages of schooling/life (between elementary school and middle school, to name one). Since the adults that work with them are often siloed into age groups, the support networks usually available in these difficult years are absent or incomplete, creating even more inequity at times that are already challenging and crucial for young people's development. The topic clearly hit a nerve - many people we talked to in our planning were so glad to hear someone was deciding to focus the conversation on these years. The energy was palpable, even on zoom, as everyone joined the conversation. Folks came to the gathering from across the spectrum of programs and school years, from birth and pre-K all the way to 12th grade and career transitions. Especially in the busy month of December, we are grateful that everyone took the time to join for the beginning of what will be a series of gatherings on this topic - and we hope you also felt the energy of the collective, of people who know that we can hold young people and families across these transition years with respect for the monumental transitions they are.
If you missed the meeting (or part of it) and want to catch up, check out the info below and feel free to contact us to make sure we include you on communications to each of the Transition Year small groups! Each of the small/grade band groups will be meeting again in Feb/March, and then we will gather again June 14th as a wider group to share out what we think can be improved right away (within our roles and control) and move forward in advocating for what may include larger policy/institutional changes. It's not too late to join the conversation!
Who was there?
We kicked things off with a "Who's in the Room?" set of questions, which told us a lot about the group:
What were the goals of the conversation?
As we often do in our network spaces, we wanted to combine a problem-solving approach with an equity frame focused on listening, checking assumptions and understanding gaps and challenges. We also set up the conversation to prioritize connecting across lines, and we hold firmly in our belief that new energy and possibilities can come from those conversations, even among people who have been doing their work for a very long time. We have found this to be true even in our own collaboration to plan this meeting - we have already learned so much about how we can align our efforts to create a continuum of care, especially for families and young people who face the most barriers and systematic oppression in our system. If you wan to hear more about these efforts, ask us about the future of the Community Partner Portal and Summer Program Pitch workshops (in Feb) we are also facilitating as Joint Network gatherings.
So, what did I miss?
For this first meeting, we grounded the conversation in stories from young people (alum Elijah Cheeks) and from caregivers (alum and caregiver Vanessa Bernard from the ESON/MSN Parent Advisory Board), and took some time to connect over relevant info in our Connection Groups. One group watched and reacted to this clip from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which hit on many of the visceral feelings of moving into middle school, and another talked about their high school experiences, if they were to be summarized in the oh-so-popular "Spotify wrapped" format. Another group got to ask questions and dive deeper into Vanessa Bernard's experiences as an alum and a caregiver of multiple kids moving through transitions, and our last group was an opportunity to literally "meet the people" - a version of our usual "life catch-up" connection group, adapted for a space where so many folks were new to each other.
Breakouts: Focus on challenges first
After connecting, we moved into our 45min breakout groups to focus on the difficulties of each transition.It was important to us to dive into this topic by talking first about what we know are the challenges for young people and families - and not to jump too fast to solutions, to ideas, or to examples until we took a minute to see and hear what needed to be heard.
One of the other ways we sought to ground the conversation was in using data - in this case, using the example of chronic absenteeism data from Cambridge Public Schools - to spark the conversation and show how we could ask questions (and get some answers in the form of data) thanks to our partnership with Robert Emery, ICTS Data Manager for CPS. Check out the Transition Years slide deck (slides 16-19) to see some concrete data on how chronic absenteeism stats compare across the transition years. We are hoping these groups will come up with more questions we can explore using data - about the particulars of the transition, or about what might help in the transition.
Moving from challenges to collective action: what's the next step?
Each of our small groups planned a date to meet again in February/March, as a midpoint before another joint network gathering on June 14th, by which point we hope to have more clarity on what we can actively do in our own locus of control to improve the experiences of young people and families right now (like this year) and what we will advocate for from the larger systems and institutions that impact these transitions. The mandate between now and the Feb/March meetings, for each small group, was to use that time to:
This sounds like a huge and complex topic....
True. We ended our meeting with a debrief focused on two strength and asset-based questions related to young people, families and programs:
I missed the meeting but I want to join one of the four small groups (preK-K, 5/6th, 8/9th, 12th-postsecondary) for the future conversations and planning
Great! Here are the dates for Feb/March meetings and the facilitators for each group - send us an email and we will add you in!
I missed it - did you record the meeting?
Yes, we did - at least the section not in breakout groups. We are editing it down to make it easily watchable - stay tuned!
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