Urban Alliance addresses circumstances that may prevent students from thriving in a professional environment
After graduation, Aysa Nixon, a senior at McKinley Technological high school, plans to attend beauty school while working to save money toward obtaining a degree in business management.
And she strives to stay just as focused in her personal life.
“I’m trying to stay from doing something that I would be disappointed or ashamed of,” she says.
Teenagers engage in countless activities that could lead to the type of distress that Nixon fears—one of which is unprotected sex leading to teen pregnancy.
While the District has seen a steady decrease in teen births in the past few years, the birth rate for teenagers 15–19 is still a concern. In 2011, there were 879 births to girls aged 15 to 19 in the District of Columbia, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Statistics have shown that compared to their counterparts, teen girls with children are less likely to graduate high school, enter post-secondary school and engage in flourishing careers. Nationally, only 38 percent of girls who have a child before age 18 graduate high school. Only two percent get a college degree by age 30.
“It’s about providing greater opportunities”
Since November 2013, Nixon has been receiving professional development training as an intern in the office of alumni affairs at the Urban Alliance headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Urban Alliance is a national organization designed to empower under-resourced youth by providing them with formal training, paid internships and mentoring to ignite a spirit of work ethic and career mindedness. The program’s mission isn’t explicitly about preventing teens from getting pregnant—or improving health or self-esteem—but quality youth programs accomplish all that in addition to their primary missions.
“It’s not so much that we’re focusing on drilling in that you can’t get pregnant, it’s about providing greater opportunities,” says Wendy-Ann Dixon-DuBois, Urban Alliance’s director of outreach and communications. “So for us, we see it as an intervention—if students are engaged in meaningful activities after school and during the week, that means less time for them to get caught up.”
To be effective in its mission, Urban Alliance needs to address circumstances that may prevent students from thriving in a professional environment.
“We realize that we can’t expect our young people to be performing and functioning to optimal levels in a work or school environment if their basic needs aren’t being met and if they aren’t living to their full capacity because there are other challenges they may be facing,” says Dixon-Dubois. “We…have to meet our young people where they are and be flexible … and work toward what would be ideal and optimal but know that they aren’t starting there.”
In addition to working as interns three days a week, participants are required to attend weekly workshops for added support.
“We know that we aren’t experts in health or relationships so that’s when we focus on our partners in other areas who do have those strengths,” says Dixon-Dubois, who cites organizations like Metro Teen AIDS, Men Can Stop Rape and the Young Womens Project as valuable partners to the organization.
March’s workshop theme is healthy living and focuses on relationships and sexual, mental and emotional health. Thus far, these workshops have given Nixon a new outlook on keeping a clear mind, remaining positive and reducing stress.
“We have to meet our young people where they are and be flexible.”
Urban Alliance’s practice of providing social support with career guidance has proven to work well for their high schoolers.
“It gives me something to do, think about and focus on,” says Nixon. “It gives more insight into the workforce and it helps re-evaluate decisions that I probably would have made without the program.”
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