DExecuting the Plan
Choosing the target area and setting a goal
The mayor’s office chooses whether the initiative will be focused broadly or narrowly across the city’s population. For example, the program can span the entire city, serve a high school and its feeder schools, target a single neighborhood, or be limited to the area served by a particular community-based organization. Picking an ambitious but achievable goal can be useful in making the call to action. For example, the mayor’s office may aim for the number of young people being coached to match the number of middle and high school students who are statistically likely to drop-out of targeted schools. Further, working with a broader or narrower population can affect how metrics are collected (see the Measuring Impact section).
Partners both in and outside of city government can play a critical role in recruiting Graduation Coaches and managing the trainings. One set of “anchor” partners might be responsible for managing the trainings on a regular basis. These partners can help provide trainers (see section on Preparing Trainers) as well as logistical support. They may commit to offer a certain number of trainings (e.g., twice a month) and arrange for or offer their own facilities (such as civic organizations, community or recreation centers, libraries, businesses, community-based nonprofits, hotels and conference centers, educational institutions, and places of worship). The ideal anchor partner is an organization that can manage the event production by providing some or all of the necessary equipment, supplies, and refreshments.
Other partners may help by recruiting or arranging for individuals to be trained as Graduation Coaches. Faith congregations, businesses, service fraternities or sororities, civic associations, volunteer groups, parent associations, and other groups of adults with ties to targeted youth are good sources. These partners may also help establish communication channels with the coaches to enable metrics tracking.
Creating a system to track pledges and communicate with coaches
The mayor’s office and its partners must determine how volunteers will sign-up to be coaches, register for Graduation Coach workshops, and identify and share the progress of their students. The initiative leads should also establish a process for ongoing communication with coaches and metrics tracking. If specific schools are targeted, it may be possible to use the school website to sign-up coaches and obtain school data to measure outcomes. However, if the effort is more diffuse – e.g., across the whole city – a new website may be a better strategy. Minimal custom programming should be required to create a website that performs these functions automatically.
Preparing trainers to lead graduation coach workshops
Graduation Coach workshops, designed to train volunteers as coaches, are the cornerstone of this effort. The mayor’s office, together with its partners, develops a curriculum, compiles a library of resources for trainers and coaches, and identifies trainers who will deliver the workshops.
Develop the workshop curriculum and incorporate locally relevant material. The goal of the Graduation Coach training curriculum is to provide Graduation Coach trainers with material that will help them:
- Motivate prospective Graduation Coaches to help their young people graduate from high school and pursue higher education;
- Provide guidance on what conversations are important to have with young people at different stages in their educational journey; and
- Suggest tips on how to have those conversations effectively.
Most of the curricula developed by existing Graduation Coach initiatives in other cities are applicable in all locales (see Resources section for more information), but the data on graduation rates and other elements of the call to action will be most effective if they include information specific to the target area. Once a draft curriculum has been developed, a set of trainers should be identified to test it so refinements can be made as necessary.
Create a library of online resources with locally relevant material. The goal of the online resource library is to give volunteer coaches a directory of all information they may need to support a young person to achieve in high school, graduate, and get to and through college. This information can range from after school activities that support youth development to college financial aid and application assistance.
As with the curriculum, resources that other cities have developed are a useful starting point (see the Resources section for more information), but the mayor’s office will need to add a set of resources that are specific to the target area, city, and surrounding region. The materials and advice of local teachers, guidance counselors, and youth-focused nonprofits can provide a good starting place for this information.
Recruit volunteer trainers to deliver the workshops. Trainers who deliver the workshops will ideally be affiliated with anchor partners, although some may come from other sources. Useful groups to approach with a request for volunteer trainers include small to mid-size businesses, the human resources departments of large organizations, teachers, professors, workforce development nonprofits, training contractors, and community organizers. Helpful qualities to look for in trainers include experience delivering other kinds of training, experience as parents with teenagers attending college, social sensitivity, cultural knowledge and connection to the target community, long-term commitment, and proximity to one or more of the venues.
It may be that most trainers will volunteer only for short periods or will have infrequent availability; the mayor’s office may find it helpful to maintain a large pool to call upon to ensure broad coverage across different timeslots (i.e., during the workday, in evenings, on weekends). Ideally – if funding allows – the mayor’s office provides a small stipend for the trainers, which can be helpful for attracting trainers with more experience to become more deeply involved. If the mayor’s office is unable to provide a stipend to keep volunteers engaged, cities should consider tapping a single organization to lead this part of the initiative to increase accountability. This partnership will help provide a steady stream of qualified and committed volunteer trainers.
The volunteer trainers need to be trained to deliver the workshops and supported in their efforts. A “train the trainer” system may be necessary if the goal is to reach a large number of Graduation Coaches. Those enlisted to “train the trainer” may sit in on trainings to provide feedback to trainers. Written evaluations (either administered at the site or online) can help trainers improve their delivery.
Recruiting Graduation Coaches
Once the resource library and workshop planning are complete, the mayor’s office and its local partners promote the initiative to the adults of the target area. Useful avenues for reaching caring adults include school open houses, civic group meetings, block parties, religious gatherings, local business association gatherings, parenting center events, and community center events. Local partners (e.g., a local nonprofit that focuses on youth engagement, businesses with multiple stores or branches) can be particularly helpful in recruiting coaches and may follow outreach strategies that include: use of marketing materials such as posters or brochures; word-of-mouth communication with the help of local leaders; presenting to community organizations; use of mass media outlets; email outreach; and presence at local events (e.g., information tables at a community fair). All of these strategies should be tailored to the interests and characteristics of the desired Graduation Coach population (e.g., being present at locations frequented by the targeted population).
If the initiative is focused on recruiting Graduation Coaches from diverse communities, there are some specific strategies that could be helpful in recruiting mentors from those groups, as listed below.
- Develop connections to ethnic, religious, social, fraternal, and professional organizations. They can help identify people in the community who might be willing to be coaches and lend their credibility to a program.
- Create an advisory committee, including members who are leaders with respect from and influence in the community from which you are trying to recruit coaches, who can encourage and challenge people to support the initiative.
- Ensure that marketing efforts are linguistically and culturally responsive. Hold meetings and presentations in familiar locations; greet potential coaches at the door to help build personal relationships.
- Collaborate with existing programs to gain entry into the community. Working with established organizations may help get buy-in from community members.
- Use media outlets that appeal to the targeted group of potential coaches. Such outlets may include ethnic or community newspapers and smaller radio stations playing a particular genre of music or broadcasting in the primary language of the group from which you are trying to recruit.
Conducting Graduation Coach Workshops
The training workshops provide volunteer coaches with a greater understanding of the dropout epidemic, stronger motivation to make a difference with the young people in their lives, and the guidance necessary to increase their effectiveness as coaches. That guidance comes in two forms:
- what conversations are important to have, and
- what resources to use when giving advice, each customized for the young person’s age.
A key challenge in delivering these workshops is that individuals with children will likely comprise a portion of those who respond to the call and parenting style can be a sensitive topic. It is therefore important for trainers to present the initiative’s guidance as a set of resources that the participants may find useful in helping the young people they care for, and avoid any discussion of parenting styles.
To run the workshops, the mayor’s office and its partners play a coordinating role that brings together participants and trainers, along with the materials and supplies they need (e.g., resource materials, a PowerPoint presentation and projector, refreshments). As the timing and needs of each target community can vary, it may be useful to set up a short series of workshops that immediately follow the initiative launch and then schedule further workshops on an as-needed basis. Annual days of service, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, may be a good time to offer workshops.
Supporting Graduation Coached On An Ongoing Basis
Given that coaching relationships are likely to be most impactful when they include at least four hours of coaching across multiple sessions each month, for a year or more,6 it is important to provide ongoing support to help volunteer coaches stay informed and engaged. After coaches have completed the workshop training, the mayor’s office and its partners support them going forward by helping them get answers to their questions, supporting each other, and staying engaged. This can be done through a “frequently asked questions” page online, organizing periodic social mixers for coaches where there is also a Q&A session, providing periodic news and answers to questions on the city’s service website or a blog, creating a Facebook page for the initiative, answering questions directly by phone or email, and running an email list for coaches to raise questions and share their stories.
Graduation Coach initiatives can be attractive to donors concerned about education in the local community. Depending on the scale and targeting of the effort, required resources may include staff support; website development, hosting, and management; stipends for trainers; printing; and refreshments for workshop participants. If these resources cannot be provided in-kind or through city funds, local funders can be approached to support the effort. Potential sources of funding and in-kind donations include: local businesses, local foundations, individual donors, marketing firms, food and drink vendors, print shops, graphic design firms, web design firms, and advertising agencies.
The elements of a typical proposal would include:
- Description of the Graduation Coaches initiative
- Information on how this initiative would positively impact the community (e.g., value of increasing adult involvement and the ultimate improvement in student achievement or graduation rates)
- Amount of funding requested, proposed breakdown of grant(s) and how those funds would be used (e.g., paying for supplies, providing a stipend to the trainers)
- Metrics that would be collected to assess progress
- Information on Cities of Service (this is especially helpful for national funders)
- Description of how the donor would be recognized (e.g., logo on printed materials, branding on your city’s service website, verbal acknowledgement in the training session)
The mayor’s office can work with its partners to recognize donors and provide follow-up information on the initiative’s implementation and impact.
Recognizing and Thanking Volunteers
Volunteer recognition is an effective recruitment and retention tool. Recognition not only motivates volunteers, but also promotes public awareness in local communities and builds a sense of community within and amongst the coaches. To recognize Graduation Coach volunteers, honor the coaches in a way that will resonate with the target community. Local community-based leaders or organizers involved in the initiative can help determine the forms of recognition that will be most meaningful for the particular group(s) in question. Some methods to consider are thanks and recognition from the mayor at a community event, a written thank you note with statistics on the impact to-date of the program, a thank you to coaches in a newsletter, or discounts at local retail businesses provided by project sponsors. The mayor’s office may also want to recognize the volunteer trainers, as many likely invest a great deal of personal effort into the initiative. In general, the more this recognition can create cachet around being part of the Graduation Coach community, the better it will be for recruitment and retention efforts.