Many exciting things have been happening here at the Foundation since the start of 2016. First, we kicked off the year in January by announcing our new funding priority focused on raising the post-secondary aspirations of middle school students growing up in rural Maine. We also announced a request for proposals from organizations around the state that are working with middle school students in creative and effective ways to nurture and develop aspirations, with the intention of learning about and highlighting both leaders in the field and emerging organizations or programs.
In February, we hired Don Carpenter to be our new Senior Program Officer. Don’s first task was to take part in a four month landscape scan to gain a deeper understanding of what is currently happening in rural communities to help raise aspirations for middle school students. The information gathered through over 40 conversations with youth development organizations, community leaders, educators, and youth advocates, along with the inspiring proposals from the rich pool of applicants to our RFP, and Don’s extensive background in youth development as the founder of the Trekkers model, have all informed the development of a new grantmaking initiative at the Foundation called the Aspirations Incubator Program.
Aspirations Incubator Program (AIP):
The AIP is built around 10 Youth Programming Principles, which were shaped by Trekkers as they built a comprehensive youth development program model that leads to excellent outcomes for participants (93% graduate from high school, compared to 78% of peers, and 72% go on to college, compared to 61% of peers). Through the AIP, the Lerner Foundation will focus on building partnerships with several youth development organizations based in rural Maine communities, with a goal of developing both organizational and leadership capacity within each organization to implement comprehensive youth development program models rooted in the 10 Youth Programming Principles. To provide leadership and professional training for our partner organizations, the Lerner Foundation hopes to support the creation of a training institute, where youth development professionals will be able to learn about the 10 Principles and how to incorporate or adapt them into their own programming and activities. At a broader level, the Lerner Foundation will also encourage and support dialogue about a comprehensive statewide approach to getting Maine students to and through post-secondary education.
The AIP will be the primary focus for all Lerner Foundation activities from 2016 through 2020. To this end, the Foundation has completed a five-year strategic plan that will guide the Foundation’s grantmaking, network-building, and communications activities through the end of 2020.
Trekkers’ 10 Youth Programming Principles:
1) Going Beyond “One and Done”
2) Applying Holistic Youth Development Practices
3) Utilizing Data to Inform Programming
4) Creating a Community Support Network
5) Developing Local Leadership
6) Expanding World Views
7) Meeting Students Where They Are
8) Providing Platforms to “Name, Know, and Nourish”
9) Embracing Student Driven Learning
10) Encouraging Civic Responsibility
2016 Request for Proposals:
In conjunction with developing the 5-year plan for the Aspirations Incubator Program, we spent April and May reviewing proposals from 27 final applicants in our RFP process. The final applicants were selected from an initial pool of 81 candidates who responded to our request for proposals that outlined the following priorities for youth program models:
- Positive youth development that integrates both prevention and intervention strategies
- Multi-year mentoring activities – community or school-based
- Fostering social/emotional learning and resiliency asset building
- Encouraging higher education & career exploration
- Utilizing evaluation data to inform programming
In reviewing the final applications, we realized that the breadth and depth of programming across the state varied widely, and we had a range of different types of organizations that applied, so we developed 4 categories for grant awards. Following is a description of the categories and the grants awarded within each category:
Leaders in the Field - $10,000 grants to organizations with established youth programs that rise to the top, and serve as inspirational examples of effective, evidence-based program models focused on raising the aspirations of middle school students.
- Community Bicycle Center
- Maine Robotics
- Maine Seacoast Mission – EdGE Program
- The Game Loft
- The Telling Room
- Tree Street Youth
- University of New England – Office of Citizenship & Civic Engagement
Promise and Potential - $5,000 grants to organizations with programs for middle school students that have been in place for 1-3 years, are rooted within a solid organizational structure, and utilize a developmentally appropriate program model to effectively focus on raising the aspirations of middle school students.
- Lubec Community Outreach Center
- Maine Academy of Modern Music – Machias Program
- Seeds of Independence
Seed Investment - $5,000 grants to solid youth-serving organizations that are proposing a new, innovative, well-researched, and well-designed program focused on raising the aspirations of middle school students.
- Harpswell Coastal Academy – Propeller Program
- Herring Gut Learning Center – Alumni Mentoring Program
- Island Institute – Middle School Teaching and Learning Collaborative Expansion
Strong Schools - $5,000 grants to middle schools that are taking an innovative, student-centered approach to working with students to raise aspirations and support students academically, emotionally, and behaviorally in the school setting, while also connecting with community resources in an effective way to broaden support for student needs during out-of-school time.
- Maine School Administrative District #44: Telstar Middle School
- Regional School Unit #1: FLOW Program
- Regional School Unit #10: Mountain Valley Middle School
In the coming months, we will be exploring partnership possibilities with several youth-serving organizations in rural Maine, developing opportunities for leadership training around the 10 Youth Programming Principles, and encouraging dialogue among our colleagues and networks about creating a comprehensive plan for getting Maine students to and through postsecondary education.