Educators for Quality Alternatives, the chartered group that runs alternative schools in New Orleans, and the nonprofit Youth Empowerment Project have opened a joint campus on Hayne Boulevard, an extension that will help organizations reach more young people in New Orleans East.
New Orleans East Youth Opportunities Center offerings will include a health clinic, food pantry, job training, and child care, as well as middle school, high school, high school-equivalent education programs, and programs extracurricular activities for children aged 7 to 17. .
The expansion to New Orleans East is one of two groups being considered as a way to provide programs and services to children who might otherwise fall through the cracks, said Nicole Jolly, project manager at EQA. EQA moved one of its high schools from Uptown to New Orleans East. The Youth Empowerment Project offers after-school programs and enrichment at a downtown location and adult education at its Mid-City branch.
“Young people need safe places that want to help them just be young and provide them with supports in addition to fun — things like the clinic and the community food pantry,” Jolly said.
Wraparound supports closer to home
Elizabeth Ostberg, EQA’s executive director, said the centre’s ‘comprehensive’ model allows it to address a wider range of reasons why children are consistently absent or drop out of school, noting that these include usually from external factors, including childcare, transportation, unstable housing, work obligations, or violence in their communities.
“It has become increasingly clear that if we want to increase the number of children who can successfully access (education) and graduate … we have to start dealing with that,” Ostberg said.
The organizations have collaborated in the past. NET: Central City High School is a few doors down from the YEP buildings on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, and some students have used both organizations there before. Also, YEP’s adult education program is listed on NCAP through EQA. The partnership expansion marries NET’s classroom expertise with the comprehensive services provided by YEP.
“We looked at our data and we knew a lot of our kids were from the East and it was difficult for them to join us or join us on a regular basis,” said Jerome Jupiter, COO of YEP. “So how can we bring the services to our children in their community?”
About a third of students were already taking transit from New Orleans East to the other NET sites in Gentilly and Central City, Ostberg said. Likewise, Jolly said having a YEP location in the East would hopefully allow young people who usually travel to Central City to attend programs more consistently. It will also allow the organization to grow. For example, the YEP summer camp, which fills up quickly, could hold a camp at each location. Students attending school at NET could also use YEP’s vocational training services outside of class hours.
Classes are underway for students and after-school programming is expected to begin next month, Jupiter said.
A true community center
EQA and YEP received a $300,000 Reimagine Schools grant from the Louisiana Department of Education and will receive an additional $690,000 pending BESE approval in December, according to Jennifer Tuttleton, Deputy Assistant Superintendent of the Department of Education. Education. Entergy has also pledged $500,000 to the site over the next three years.
The Orleans Parish School Board selected the partner organizations to move into the IDEA Oscar Dunn campus after the K-8 school closed late last year. The sprawling five-building campus provided enough space for YEP and EQA to set up programming with room for expansion.
The NOLA Public Schools Family Resource Center, one of three sites that helps families enroll, occupies one wing. Another building houses a daycare centre, which offers free on-campus daycare to parent students. The groups plan to expand the daycare, called NEST, for community use in the future.
A school-based health clinic is also in the works — a collaboration with LSU — and more vocational training options, including the New Orleans Technical Education Provider and Groundworks and a CNA program. Ostberg said she hopes the site could one day be used as transitional housing for young people.
“We really want to be a community center, not just for our young kids or our high school kids, but also for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles,” Jupiter said. “This Opportunity Center gives us the opportunity to meet all of the needs of the community.”