History of YouthLearn
From October 1998 to September 2000, the Morino Institute sponsored the Youth Development Collaborative (YDC) Pilot in Washington, DC. The overall goal of the effort was to work directly with four diverse community-based organizations to help them build a solid foundation upon which to enhance their services and leadership. In particular, the Morino Institute aimed to help them build the capacity to plan for and apply technology to strengthen their youth development and after-school programs.
The four core partner organizations were selected because their leaders have consistently taken a strong, long-term view of how best to address the challenges facing the children and families in their communities. We are grateful to these leaders — BB Otero of Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center, Leslie Steen of Community Preservation and Development Corporation, Donald Hense of Friendship House Association, and Paul McElligott of the Perry School Community Services Center — for taking the time to help us understand their work and for their contributions to the success of the pilot.
Among the accomplishments of the project were the following:
- The creation of state-of-art technology learning centers, each with 15 workstations and multimedia software, at the partner sites. Each of these centers continues to serve youth in their community today.
- The development of 14 staff training workshops that focused on child development, teaching techniques, and curriculum development strategies for integrating the Internet and technology as a tool for learning in out-of-school settings.
- The creation of an online community to enable and foster collaboration among the partner organizations and other youth serving organizations in the region.
- The launch of an extensive knowledge capture effort that took the lessons learned from the pilot and disseminated the information nationwide through the YouthLearn website.
- The dedicated time and expertise of an involved team of managers and staff from the Morino Institute who assisted the organizations in building their capacity to plan, lead, and sustain change in rapidly evolving environments of innovation, education, and technology.
- The creation of structured and meaningful lessons, activities, and projects to help youth development staff integrate technology into learning.
Although the pilot project ended in 2000, in many ways it lives on through the changes brought about at the four partner sites and through the knowledge captured and the lessons learned which today form the basis of the YouthLearn website, guide, and online community.
The Morino Institute selected the four partner organizations to participate in the pilot as the result of extensive landscaping of the region. The organizations were chosen because of their strong and dynamic leadership, outstanding track record in working with youth and families, and their ability to sustain the program beyond the pilot. The four organizations were:
- Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center, which provides comprehensive early childhood and school age educational and support services in English and Spanish to more than 350 children, youth, and families in the Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant, Adams Morgan, and Shaw neighborhoods.
- Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC)/Edgewood Terrace, which includes 884 housing units, many of which have access to the Internet, and five technology learning centers that offer job training and educational skills development.
- Friendship House Association, which is the oldest social services center in the region. Friendship House manages several public charter schools in the District of Columbia, as well as seven senior centers, a mental health redevelopment center, and a small business development center.
- Perry School Community Service Center, which was the first comprehensive social services center in the North Capitol neighborhood. Perry School offers medical, educational, technological, economic, social, artistic, and therapeutic programs for one of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington, DC.
The pilot project confirmed a basic conviction that first grew out of the Morino Institute's early work with the National Youth Center Network and the Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP) program in New Haven, Connecticut — that the effective integration of technology into learning requires both time (at least two years or more) and significant investments in organizational capacity and staff development.
Additional lessons learned from the YDC Pilot are that:
- Bridging the "digital divide" is more complex than providing hardware and software to community-based organizations that serve youth. Just providing computers, Internet connections, and technology training will do little to give young people the skills they need to succeed in the new economy. Rather, it is about offering opportunities to use the technology in innovative learning programs and to establish meaningful relationships with other children and adults in the community.
- Staff development needs to be ongoing and sustained across the organization. Training for staff needs to focus on child development, teaching techniques, and curriculum development strategies that integrate the Internet and other technologies throughout the youth development program. There needs to be much greater allocation of funds for organizational staff development to ensure the development of high quality programs. All staff need to be included in this training.
- Quality programs require content and roadmaps for staff to develop meaningful projects for youth. Youth development staff in community-based organizations need a suite of Internet-enabled programs and educational support materials to develop appropriate projects for the children in their programs. This content needs to be integrated into an overall youth program schedule and plan that consists of clear goals and objectives that can result in measurable outcomes.
- Reliable and quality technical support is critical for all programs. Too often, centers must rely on volunteers or overworked staff to provide technical support to maintain the network, hardware, and software. When the equipment is not functioning effectively, children quickly lose interest and staff lose confidence and become disenchanted with the technology.
- Leadership and management need a realistic understanding of the true cost of operating and sustaining centers. Too often leaders focus their planning efforts on the front load costs of these programs — the purchasing of hardware, software, and Internet connectivity — which is only half the picture. Sustaining these centers requires realistic budgeting for maintenance, upgrading equipment and software, technical support, adequate staffing, and training.
- It takes time, expertise, and dedicated attention to develop quality programs. The integration of technology into programs for youth requires well trained staff and time for program development — whether in school or out-of-school settings. Community-based organizations can make a difference in the closing of the digital divide if the necessary investments are made to build capacity within the organizations, including staff training and other forms of professional development, curriculum development, leadership development, and quality technical support.
- Build technical capacity where the impact will be the greatest. It is critical to establish the capacity for the Internet and related technologies in centers within organizations that can yield the greatest benefit to the community. Initial efforts should focus on making a few efforts highly effective — otherwise, we run the risk of diluting investments and resources.
- Consider the use of emerging technologies to reduce the costs to establish and maintain technology systems. The cost of establishing and maintaining technology systems continues to be beyond the reach of most community-based organizations and schools. We believe that the emerging Application Service Provider (ASP) technology offers the opportunity to outsource various levels of their technology and applications. In addition, mobile, wireless, voice, and messaging systems hold promise for nonprofit organizations that do not have the organizational capacity to sustain complex technology systems.
The Morino Institute assigned a diverse and experienced management team to lead and manage the two-year pilot. Their titles and biographies at the time of the pilot are below.
- Tracy Gray
Vice President, Youth Services
Tracy Gray provided the leadership and overall responsibility for the Morino Institute's programs, activities and representation in youth services, specifically, the Youth Development Collaborative Pilot. Prior to joining the Institute, Tracy was the deputy chief operating officer for the Corporation for National Service, President Clinton's domestic Peace Corps. As a senior member of the initial staff, she was instrumental in the launching of the program to place more than 25,000 AmeriCorps members in 450 programs across the nation. Prior to joining the Corporation, she was director of research and technology at the Points of Light Foundation. Under her leadership, VolunteerNet was established, in conjunction with AOL, to link the volunteer community to information and opportunities. Prior to this work, Tracy spent more than fifteen years in the areas of educational public policy and organizational management. She was responsible for the first national AIDS public education program established by the American Red Cross. A native of New York City, Ms. Gray was educated at the University of California, Riverside where she received her BA in psychology and a California Secondary Teaching Credential for Spanish. She received her MA and Ph.D. from Stanford University in education and psychology. As a junior, she studied for a year in Madrid, Spain, and also did graduate work in Mexico City, Mexico. She was the recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship for graduate studies at Stanford and a University of California scholarship for undergraduate work. She is the proud mother of two daughters and the product of the New York City public school system.
- Rich McDonnell
Managing Director, Investments
Rich McDonnell joined the Morino Group in May 1998 and was named managing director for investments. Before assuming this role, he was vice president of operations for the Morino Group and also served as a senior level management advisor to the Morino Institute's Youth Development Collaborative (YDC) Pilot. Prior to joining the Morino Group, Rich worked for 24 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). He spent approximately half of his career with USDA abroad, including postings to Holland, Portugal, Spain, Canada and Russia. During his diplomatic career, he negotiated with foreign governments to gain improved access for American products and helped U.S. businessmen penetrate overseas markets. He speaks Spanish and some Portuguese and Russian. A native of Bradford, Massachusetts, he received a BA in economics from the University of Massachusetts and an MA in international relations (Russian studies) from Georgetown University. After completing his undergraduate degree, he served four years in the U.S. Navy.
- Liz Wainger
Director of Communications
Liz Wainger is founder of Liz Wainger Communications, L.L.C., an independent, strategic communications consulting firm that helps position and brand public, private and not-for-profit companies and organizations. Prior to founding her firm, Wainger was director of communications for the Morino Institute/Morino Group in Reston, VA, where she was responsible for positioning and branding a variety of entrepreneurial ventures that included the development and messaging around the Youth Development Collaborative Pilot and Venture Philanthropy Partners, an effort to apply strategic investment management principles to funding organizations serving youth and families in the National Capital region. Wainger has also held senior communications positions at The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Institute of Architects, and was a reporter and researcher at The Washington Post on the Metro and Style desks. Wainger graduated from Tufts University with a Bachelor of Arts in Russian and spent a semester at Leningrad State University, now St. Petersburg University, in Russia.
- Cheryl Collins
Director, Information and Outreach
Cheryl Collins served as director of information, research and outreach for the Morino Institute, responsible for general inquiries; the brokering the Institute often does to connect parties; communications, including production of the Institute's Web site; outreach; and grants management and administration. Cheryl was previously involved with a number of Morino initiatives in a variety of roles since the "discovery/journey" phase that led to the formation of the Institute in April 1994. Before moving to Northern Virginia in October 1991, Cheryl worked with students in grades 7-12 teaching English, journalism and creative writing and was a program advisor at the Arkansas Department of Education where she worked with school districts to assist them in the implementation of K-12 gifted programs. She has a BA from Hendrix College, a master's of education in elementary administration from Harding University and a master's of education in gifted and talented education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
- Catherine (Kit) Collins
Kit Collins has been advisor to the Morino Institute since l993, participating in the development of the Institute's approach to social change through technology-supported youth and community development services. She was a member of the YDC Pilot team and simultaneously served as executive director of the Center for Educational Design and Communication (CEDC). Kit has worked extensively with social justice projects which integrate strategies of education, communication and leadership in service of social change. CEDC's work with under-resourced nonprofit organizations includes more than two hundred projects over the last 15 years. Kit has served on the development team for most of these projects. Her work has included learning design, training workshops, strategic communications, seminars, process design, Web site development and education and communication consultation in the U.S. and more than twenty countries worldwide (six continents). Prior to her work at CEDC, Kit was involved in teaching and school administration. The Network of Sacred Heart Schools in the United States was founded under her direction and extended internationally. She led the initiation of systems for goals and criteria, school evaluation, faculty development and board education. During her tenure as national coordinator she inaugurated a graduate level summer leadership program at the University of Notre Dame for network educators. Kit is a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart Order.
- Victoria Vrana
Producer, Online Content
As Producer, Online Content, Victoria Vrana oversaw the production of content and learning materials for the YDC Pilot program, primarily for electronic publication. She was the lead producer of the YouthLearn.org Web site and managed the YouthLearn online community. She was also involved in external and internal communications relating to the pilot and contributed to strategy development for the program. Previously, Victoria was a senior account executive with Millennium Communications Group, Inc., a strategic communication consulting firm working with nonprofit organizations and foundations. Leading Millennium's new media work, Victoria's clients included the Rockefeller Foundation, the Benton Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Markle Foundation, Northern California Grantmakers and the Asia Foundation. Prior to her work at Millennium, she directed the first transnational electronic network linking women in post-Soviet countries through the Network of East-West Women. She has held workshops and presented on using the Internet for international networking, activism, advocacy and internal organizational communications at a variety of forums including the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. Victoria studied in Germany and Hungary and has a degree in comparative literature from the University of California at Davis.
- Andrea Schorr
Learning Program Specialist
As learning program specialist for the YDC Pilot, Andrea Schorr was part of the pilot development team responsible for designing systems, strategies and content for the development, staffing, management and implementation of learning programs. Andrea led the design of the YDC Pilot staff development training series and helped design the concept and plan for the YDC Pilot. She was a Morino Institute associate since 1996. From 1996 to 1997 she was a dual employee of the Institute and Stand For Children, a branch of the Children's Defense Fund. Andrea served as Stand For Children's Internet director and in that capacity was responsible for staff training, information systems administration, and content development and administration of Stand For Children's electronic publications and discussion forums. Before joining the Morino Institute, Andrea was the founder and director of the LEAP Computer Learning Center (LCLC), where she was responsible for designing and managing all aspects of the Internet lab and educational programs, including curriculum development, staff training, program administration and resource development. Andrea built the LCLC as a new program for Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP), a mentoring and academic enrichment program that works with over 900 children from high poverty neighborhoods in New Haven, Hartford and New London, Connecticut. Andrea worked as a LEAP neighborhood site coordinator and summer program instructor prior to taking on the LCLC. She worked as a tutor, counselor, mentor and visual arts instructor with children in New Haven schools and youth programs during college. Andrea graduated from Yale University with a BA in Political Science.
- Claudine (Candy) Taaffe
Learning Program Specialist
As learning program specialist, Candy Taaffe served as the liaison between the YDC Pilot development team and the core partner organizations. Responsibilities for this position centered on facilitating the development and growth of, and communication with, core partners toward the successful implementation and maintenance of YDC learning programs. Previously, Candy was the director for LEAP Computer Learning Center (LCLC) in New Haven, Connecticut. During her two years at LEAP, Candy gained experience in program and staff development, educational technology and curriculum development. She also served as a liaison between LEAP, Yale University and the community. Prior to joining LEAP, Candy was the program director for the innovative literacy initiative, Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education (SCALE), in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In her role as program director, she was responsible for designing, directing and evaluating all of SCALE's national, campus-based literacy programs. Candy received her BA in history and political science from the University of Rochester. Upon graduation from college, she worked as an intern at the Children's Defense Fund, served as a trainer for the Children Defense Fund's Freedom Schools Program and was a founding member of the Black Student Leadership Network. Candy also taught in Montgomery Public Schools for three years and has been engaged in community organizing for the last five years. She is bilingual in English and Spanish.
- Lara Suziedelis
As program assistant for the YDC Pilot, Lara Suziedelis worked with the pilot team to assist with the capture of knowledge acquired during the two years of the pilot. In addition, she edited, wrote and conducted research on topics relevant to the pilot and the Institute. She was responsible for coordinating the final three staff development sessions for pilot participants, which took place in fall 2000. A Washington, D.C. native, she recently returned to the area to begin her work at the Institute. Prior to that, she studied social policy at the University of Glasgow in Scotland with a focus on children's rights, and attended an intensive course on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Girona, Spain. She has a BA in sociology from Villanova University and an MS in criminology and criminal justice from Northeastern University, focusing on prevention programs for at-risk children.