Thursday, May 7, 2020

Non-Profit Spotlight: The Haven Project

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Lynn English Class of 2005 is supporting two local Lynn organizations in lieu of an in-person or virtual gathering to mark our 15th year since graduation. One of those organization is the Haven Project, whose mission is to equip and empower homeless young adults between the ages of 17 and 24 with the skills and resources needed to be safe and independent. After going live with our fundraiser on April 27th, I connected with the Haven Project in order to share a little bit about what they do. 



 For those who don’t know, tell us a little bit about the scope of homelessness in Lynn/on the North Shore for the population you serve (those ages 17 - 24).  

Lynn Public High Schools report that there are over 420 homeless unaccompanied young adults attending high school who are not in the care of a parent or guardian.  This number does not incorporate those who have already dropped out of school, which national homelessness experts estimate is often 4-5 times the number still attending school. A recent survey taken by North Shore Community College indicated that 19% of students were housing insecure. While there are other organizations in the state serving this population, no comprehensive, age-appropriate services existed for this population in our area prior to our founding.


By comparison, is Lynn unique in this area when you look at other cities statewide?

Lynn has a much higher percentage of homeless young adults than surrounding communities. Community poverty, addiction, mental health challenges, cultural expectations, and perceived lack of opportunity are some of the reasons for this. Lynn is leading the state in rallying around the efforts to identify youth who are in need of services due to housing insecurity and connecting them with resources. Social service agencies, such as the Haven Project, have played a great role in raising attention to the issue of youth homelessness which was previously invisible and grossly underestimated. The work of vigilant staff in the Lynn Public School system and the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless has gotten the attention of state agencies and some state funding for this population.


 The Haven Project was established nearly ten years ago. How have you seen the need evolve since you first opened?

When we began operations in November of 2012, there was no acknowledgement that this population even existed. The nuances of youth and young adult homelessness juxtaposed with the stereotypes associated with chronic elder homelessness were unknown even among agencies dedicated to helping the homeless population. When we opened, we really had to be creative to draw out this population and get them engaged with our services, as many of them did not think their situation qualified for assistance. Since that time, we have played a major role in raising awareness about youth homelessness, and other services and funds have been allotted. Our award-winning social enterprise, Land of a Thousand Hills Café, has served as one of the ways we have raised community awareness of the local issue of youth homelessness.

As the community has become more aware, we have noticed that for some young people, being homeless has become normalized and may be viewed as a lifestyle choice. For other young people, this awareness of our services has caused them to reach out while they are at risk of homelessness, but not homeless yet. We are currently evolving our programming to engage with youth at risk of homelessness and implementing trainings and preventative case management. We are very excited to be adding preventative community services to our programming.


How has the COVID pandemic changed some of the needs among homeless/housing insecure young people? How have you had to change how you assist with these needs?

We typically have a caseload of 60 young adults, but because so many of our more stable clients are now unstable, we are currently working with about 150 homeless young adults in Lynn and Salem. Many of our clients were recently laid-off from their jobs, so not only are we providing a lot of basic needs such as food and clothing, sanitizer, face masks, and personal hygiene kits, we are also paying cell phone bills and other urgent needs.  

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we operated two Drop-in Centers (DIC), one in downtown Lynn, open every weekday, and one in Salem which was open one afternoon a week, where clients could Drop-in. Because of safety and social distancing, we are now scheduling appointments and interacting virtually through phone calls, FB messenger, texts, and Zoom meetings. We are still offering job-training and workshops for our clients to earn income; this is no longer happening at our social enterprise, which is currently closed, but at My Brothers Table with staff a few times each week. We are also incentivizing motivated clients with a new tablet to take online classes and gain job related certifications. We are continuing to get clients jobs; 5 have gotten a job in the past 10 days.

Additionally, advocacy and knowledge are a big part of our activities these days: how to be safe, how to apply for unemployment, knowing what their rights are as renters and what online social activities are available, etc.  There is a lot of attention towards ensuring clients are feeling emotionally supported as they are particularly isolated, vulnerable, and restless.


Thinking about the intersection between housing and education, in what ways do you think this pandemic will affect young people in precarious situations trying to complete high school?

There are already so many barriers for some of these young adults to complete high school, such as a lack of understanding about the importance of education and a lack of motivation and support from their families and friends, that it is now easier than ever to fall behind. There is less accountability and many more personal distractions that can deter these young adults in completing their assignments. To make matters worse, many of our clients don’t have the necessary resources such as computers and access to the internet for them to be competitive with their peers. That is why we are providing affected clients with a free tablet to help them with their schoolwork and gain job related certifications that will help them in their future.  Fortunately, the resourcefulness and flexibility of the Lynn Public School educators has and continues to be amazing during this time.

Similarly, as far as mental health is concerned, what are you seeing from your clients at this time?

Isolation can be very tough for our clients and many are feeling vulnerable and restless. We are checking in with all our clients frequently and have compiled a list of apps that will help with their mental health, including fitness, journaling, and gaming apps. We are also beginning Zoom social events this week and we will test engagement and interest over the next couple of weeks. Most of our young adults are resistant to mental health counseling, but with the use of virtual services now allowed, we think our clients may actually engage more and be open to mental health services. For example, telehealth services are more attractive to a young person who does not have transportation funds to travel to an appointment.  Some agencies even provide mental health coaching through texting. We are building relationships with appropriate providers and are continuously encouraging and discussing all options to not only stay safe during this time, but are encouraging active learning, skill development, and personal growth.


Do you foresee the pandemic changing your operations/services even after some of the precautions we’re taking now (social distancing, etc.) are phased out?

We are excited about some of the things we are learning at this time and we expect to be stronger as a staff and an agency when this is “over”. For example, we are currently developing online trainings for youth who will be in our job training program; this will make our job training staff more efficient. We are also creating Haven Project staff and café staff onboarding and training videos. Staff is not only creating training videos, they are also leveling up. In the last 6 weeks, each staff has had a minimum of 6 hours of paid professional development and will have another 6-8 hours by mid- June. In addition, we are perfecting virtual 1:1 case management and are making our off-site social activities more interactive and encompassing.


If people are interested in supporting your organization, how can they help?

At this moment, cash donations are the most helpful. Anyone interested and able can donate directly at: https://havenproject.net/donate/. 100% of all donations go towards ensuring our clients get the skills and support they need to be stable and independent. 

We also need help getting the word out about our program on social media. We encourage everyone to follow us on Facebook by searching @Haven.Project57 or clicking here and our social enterprise, Land of a Thousand Hills, by searching @lothlynn or clicking herePlease also follow our Instagram, loth_lynn, at: https://www.instagram.com/loth_lynn/

Sunday, March 1, 2020

A Look at the Data Behind Lynn Fecteau-Leary's 19.4% Graduation Rate

In an article in this week's Daily Item regarding graduation rates in Lynn, reporter Gayla Crawley noted:
"Four years ago, then-Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham addressed the district’s significant influx of English Language Learners (ELLs), one of its two lowest performing subgroups, by placing a large number of those students at Fecteau-Leary for space concerns.

Some of those students would have attended Classical otherwise, and a majority of those ELLs have dropped out since that time. While most other aspects of Fecteau-Leary’s graduation data remained steady last year,
[Lynn School Superintendent Patrick] Tutwiler said their ELL graduation rate was zero, which “brought their data way down.”

Looking at the data, the number of English Learner (EL) students at Fecteau-Leary increased during the 2015-16 school year considerably and even further the next year. Since 2017, however, the number of EL students enrolled has decreased to enrollment numbers similar to 2014. 



Graduation rates are calculated in terms of the percentage of students who entered 9th grade for the first time in the same year who are then expected to graduate four years later. The graduating cohort is, therefore, that group of 9th graders being monitored over time. 


Over the last decade, the number of EL students in the graduating cohort has remained between 0 and 2 until the 2019 graduating cohort. Last year, there were 11 students who began high school in 2015 and were expected to graduate in 2019 at Fecteau-Leary. In 2019, the graduation rate for EL students at Fecteau-Leary was 0%; 81.8% of these students dropped out between 2015 and 2019. To clear up any misconceptions, however, the graduation rate for Hispanic/Latino students, separate from the EL rate, was 19%. 

Overall, Fecteau-Leary's 4-year graduation rate for all students was 19.4% last year compared to 34.1% the previous year. In reference to Tutwiler's comment about this bringing the data way down, if all of the EL students in last year's cohort graduated, Fecteau-Leary's graduation rate would have been closer to 50% overall. 




The school's EL population, which was 56.2% in 2016-17, is just 8.6% in 2019-20. It will be interesting to see how this change in student demographics will ultimately affect Fecteau-Leary's graduation rate in a few years. 


Source: www.doe.mass.edu

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

2019 4-Year Dropout Rate for English Learner Students Sees an Increase Statewide from 2018

Over the past five years, the number of English Learner (EL) students statewide in the graduating student cohort has increased nearly 50%.



While the number of EL students has increased, so has the 4-year dropout rate. In 2015, 14.1% of EL students who enrolled in 9th grade in 2011 dropped out within fours years; by 2019, the 4-year dropout rate had increased to 16.9%. 


Alternatively, the 4-year graduation rate for EL students in 2019 was 64.6% compared to 64% in 2015.

The state's 26 Gateway Cities represented 46.8% of the 2019 EL cohort. The 4-year dropout among these communities ranged from 0% in Westfield to 40% in Peabody.



Source: www.doe.mass.edu

Monday, February 17, 2020

2019 Graduation Rates

The state recently reported 4-year graduation rates for the cohort of Massachusetts students expected to graduate in 2019. Statewide, the 4-year graduation rate was 88%, up from 87.9% the previous year. Graduation rates, as always did vary from district to district with eight districts reporting a 100% graduation rate and another (single school district) reporting a graduation rate of just 5.4%. 

Looking at the ten Commissioner's Districts, New Bedford made the greatest gain from 2018 reporting a 71.9% graduation rate compared to 58.6% the previous year. Springfield also saw a slight increase, up 3.1 points from 2018. 



The state also reported that 73.9% of students with disabilities graduated in 2019. In many of the Commissioner's districts, the graduation rate for that particular population was under 60%. 


Similarly, 78.5% of low income students statewide graduated in 4 years with rates in the above mentioned districts ranging from 68.6% (Fall River) to 80% (Worcester). 


In Lynn, the graduation rate district wide was up slightly from 2018 (+0.5) with both Lynn Classical and Lynn Tech reporting more substantial increases from 2018.




Source: www.doe.mass.edu

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Kindergarten Enrollment Statewide Up Nearly 600 Students

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recently released the kindergarten enrollment figures for the state as of the October 1, 2019 for the current school year. Statewide, enrollment is up slightly from last year and has been steadily increasing since 2015-16.


While the vast majority of public school students in Massachusetts attend kindergarten full-time, there is a population of kindergarten students who attend part-time. 



In terms of selected populations, the number of Hispanic/Latino and English Learner students at the kindergarten level are up from last year while the number of Asian and African American/Black students are down. 


Source: www.doe.mass.edu

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Statewide 3% of Public School Students Received an Out-Of School Suspension in 2018-19

According the the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's School Discipline report, 3% of students statewide received an out of school suspension during the 2018-19 school year. Of note 5,400 Massachusetts students were suspended for a physical fight, 5.126 for illegal substances, 941 for bullying and 71 for sexual assault. Suspensions for sexual assault in particular were up from 60 during the previous school year. 

At the district level, the Phoenix Academy Charter School in Chelsea had the highest out of school suspension rate at 16.8%. Students with disabilities at Phoenix had a 34.5% out of school suspension rate and African American/Black students 27.6%. 



In terms of days of school missed due to discipline, both Phoenix Academy in Chelsea and Phoenix Academy in Springfield saw 4.4% of students miss more than 10 days of school. Overall, most students in the state who were disciplined missed 1 - 3 days of school. 

Some districts also employ the use of in-school suspensions. For example, Four Rivers Charter School had a 38.1% in-school suspension rate last year. 

Just 9 districts reported data related to student expulsions: 
  • Sizer School: 0.8%
  • Community Charter School of Cambridge: 0.6%
  • Atlantis Charter: 0.4%
  • New Heights Charter School of Brockton: 0.2%
  • Brooke Charter School: 0.1%
  • Foxborough Charter School: 0.1%
  • Hampden-Willbraham: 0.1%
  • KIPP Academy Lynn Charter: 0.1%
  • Maynard: 0.1%
Further another seven districts reported at least one student who was removed to an alternate setting. 

Statewide, the percentage of students receiving either in-school suspension or an out-of-school suspension remained largely the same from 2017-18 to 2018-19.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Lynn Voter Turnout 20% in Yesterday's Election

Yesterday, Lynn held it municipal election for both City Council and School Committee. Overall, turnout in the city was approximately 20% (19.99% according to the unofficial results to be precise). Voter turnout did vary depending on ward with Ward 1 posting the highest turnout at just over 30% and Ward 4 with the lowest turnout at 12.21%. 




For the full election results, see here

Turnout in this year's municipal election was the lowest it has been in city elections during the past decade. 


When comparing turnout just in elections where there is no mayoral race like the election this year, turnout was also lower overall. 


In 2020, voters in the city will have the opportunity to cast their vote for President, US Senate, Congress, State Senate and State Representative. Voter turnout in Lynn during the last presidential election (2016) was 65%. 


Source: City Elections and Voting Webpage