Like many large, urban cities in the United States, San Antonio residents have been challenged by seemingly intractable levels of poverty and attendant social, political, environmental, and economic challenges that were impeding growth and quality of life. Because traditional methods haven’t had the impact to systemically reduce poverty for all residents, especially children and our most vulnerable neighbors, the city and its partners sought durable, new solutions.
NXT LEVEL Youth Opportunity Center
In 2018 the City of San Antonio identified the need to serve opportunity youth—young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are disconnected from education, work, and major social institutions. To support opportunity youth with reconnecting to education or career opportunities, the City of San Antonio Department of Human Services, in collaboration with Goodwill of San Antonio and Communities in Schools of San Antonio, opened the NXT LEVEL Youth Opportunity Center, a comprehensive youth re-engagement center.
Throughout the process of designing the center, no input was more valuable than that received from the opportunity youth themselves. Paid youth consultants provided insights into programming as well as physical attributes such as building specifications, paint colors, décor, and logos.
When participants enroll at the NXT LEVEL Youth Opportunity Center, they are paired with an education and life coach to come up with a participant lead plan to help them reach their goals while working to remove any life barriers. The center has monthly education, career, and life workshops. Through the workshops, young adults learn work/life balance, anxiety reducing techniques, career exploration, work values, and other critical life skills. Participants have input on which topics are covered and often have the opportunity to co-host sessions alongside NXT LEVEL Coaches.
NXT LEVEL services have been provided to 1,405 youth, 31.5% of whom have become employed or enrolled in education or training.
Fostering Educational Success
Every year in Bexar County, more than 600 young adults age out of the state foster care system without being adopted. The challenges they face are obvious and frightening – where to live, how to get a job, can they enroll in/afford college and if so, how.
The City of San Antonio has joined four local institutions of higher education and multiple non-profits in changing these dynamics and bringing resource equity to youth aging out of foster care. The Bexar County Fostering Educational Success (BCFES) Program is an evidence-based, trauma-informed strategic framework tailored to meet the needs of youth with foster care history. The model prioritizes students’ academic aspirations and pursuits while recognizing the social, emotional, and environmental factors that may create barriers to attainment.
BCFES provides barrier-free access to education and housing and promotes the power of students’ voices. The program works with youth in, or formerly in foster care, to inform them of resources available through BCFES as well as tuition and fee waivers offered by the State of Texas.
Participating academic institutions are responsible for providing comprehensive, strengths-based resources to foster educational success among youth who have aged out of foster care, including opportunities for the development of supportive relationships and connections to programs known to advance physical and mental health and address common challenges such as finances, employment, and housing. Campus-based support programs offer students the opportunity to build a sense of community and give them access to a campus coach, and direct services and referrals.
Future Ready Plan
Geographic, racial, ethnic, and economic disparities continue to shape the destinies of far too many San Antonio children and youth, a longstanding pattern that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To counter these disparities, local leaders are embracing a shared mission: to ensure that all young people in the City of San Antonio and Bexar County are ready for the future.
The first step toward meeting this mission was taken by the UP Partnership, a local education-focused collective action initiative. Foundational partners were joined by local non-profits, educational institutions, elected officials, and youth stakeholders in the development of Future Ready Bexar County – San Antonio’s North Star for Youth Outcomes. Collaborators spent over a year identifying and describing metrics and opportunities for shared action and the Future Ready plan was produced in early 2022. The plan provides leaders with shared language, goals, metrics, and practices needed to drive real progress on youth outcomes in this community.
The plan was developed with in-depth institutional interviews and focus groups, which yielded input from hundreds of stakeholders. Their ideas and concerns were synthesized into the plan’s equity pillars – healing, access, voice – essential for youth success in and out of school, and the North Star goal: by 2030, the percentage of Bexar County High School graduates enrolling in a post-secondary degree or credential program to 70%.
UP Partnership will serve as the backbone organization for implementation of the plan, including data measurement and coordination, collaborative improvement supports, leadership coaching, and convening.