Train to Gain Initiative Success- Raymone Sazone

Raymone Sazone,    Site Director at Howard Kennedy

Skilled, confident and equipped employees are crucial to the success of any business or organization. Agencies providing care for children and youth are no exception. Often, though, funding for professional development for out-of-school time (OST) program staff is scarce, with the majority of available dollars going directly to program costs. Recognizing the importance of developing OST staff and the resulting benefits to kids, United Way of the Midlands’ Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) embarked on a three-year initiative providing significant support for staff development within OST programs. This worthy commitment led to even more than envisioned by initiating development of an educational and career path for OST staff.

The premise of the Train to Gain initiative, launched in 2015, is to provide high quality, research-based trainings educating OST staff on tactics that help children to be successful in the program and the classroom. The WLC partnered with Collective for Youth (CFY), a non-profit specializing in resources and training for OST staff, to fulfill this goal. In the first year of the initiative, 438 OST staff have participated in Youth Work Methods, a series of trainings designed to empower staff by building skills that will increase the quality of their work with youth and their families. Topics include: Reframing Conflict, Youth Voice, Ask-Listen-Encourage, Homework Help, Active Learning and Cooperative Learning, Structure and Clear Limits, and Building Community.

In addition to trainings, support is provided through the Youth Program Quality Intervention (YPQI), a quality improvement process developed by the David P. Weikart Center. This includes quality coaching to site directors of all 30 sites within Collectives for Youth’s network of Omaha Public Schools community learning centers. Program sites are given instruction on conducting a self-assessment and creating an improvement plan based on the assessment.

One of those sites is the OST program at Howard Kennedy Elementary School, run by Steve Warren, Founder and CEO of DREAM. Raymone Sazone was recruited by Warren to fulfill the role of program site director at Howard Kennedy. Formerly with Job Corps in Kansas City, Sazone credits the Youth Work Methods training with helping him to work better with school staff, program staff and students. He said the training and evaluation helps him to understand what’s happening within his program and what he can do to improve; and he appreciates knowing there are people to help him to be more focused on working with students so they can do better. He has learned various ways of motivating people and how to approach obstacles in different ways. Sazone believes the best way to motivate people is to focus on the things they do well and enjoy most. He places his staff in situations that build upon their strengths and encourages them to share their skills with their colleagues in order for everyone to grow. This approach provides people with an opportunity to demonstrate their strengths and develop new skills. When faced with obstacles, Sazone meets them head on with a positive attitude and he understands that not all obstacles should be considered as negative and often can be used to improve situations. When people allow obstacles to alter their plan or inhibit progress it ultimately damages programs, which is something that Sazone will not allow to happen at Howard Kennedy.

The Train to Gain initiative provides valuable assistance to OST program staff across the community, affecting nearly 6,000 students. It has also led to an unintended positive outcome initiated from casual conversation at the Howard Kennedy site. Dr. Stacey Ocander is a DREAM board member and Dean, Health and Public Services at Metropolitan Community College (MCC). At the time Howard Kennedy site director Sazone was participating in Youth Work Methods trainings and program evaluations, he was also working on an associate degree in criminal justice at MCC, an area of study under Ocander’s purview.

The connections with Ocander both through DREAM and through Sazone’s schooling at MCC led the two to have multiple conversations about what he was learning through the trainings facilitated by Collective for Youth. Ocander was impressed with the content he was exposed to and the more they talked, the more they both felt the trainings should count as educational credit. By putting a value to something, it engages people longer, it is something tangible – a hook – they felt. So Ocander started exploring the possibility of stackable credentials that become a pathway to an associate degree. This would provide participants additional motivation to continue moving forward in their education.

The process of developing a curriculum was a collaborative one, involving Collective for Youth, youth-serving agencies and the college including Deans from multiple areas of study. The group took a look at the training content to discern what might be missing, keeping in mind ways to diminish turnover at youth-serving agencies and encourage regular attendance at all of the Youth Work Methods trainings. Then they packaged all of the series into a non-credit industry recognized credential. Ultimately, they landed on a certificate of achievement in college of public health that will count as credit for those seeking an associate degree in Professional Health Studies. This new associate degree track will be offered by MCC beginning in fall 2017.

For those receiving this associate degree, Ocander sees a variety of opportunities. Some may move into more advanced positions within the OST program or other non-profit programs, some may decide to work in other health and human service roles. The degree’s inter-disciplinary course requirements would be beneficial in a variety of human service roles, early childhood education or public health.

Starting in January, informational sessions with CFY agencies will be held to promote the certificate and pathway to additional credentials. The goal is to give people the right tools to be successful, inspire those who are ready to enroll in a college program and help them realize there is a career path for them.

The Train to Gain initiative brought visibility to the value of providing training to those who are working with children and youth during out-of-school time hours. This focused awareness sparked ideas about opportunities for further personal development and the creation of a career pathway for those working in the health and human services field. Meanwhile, OST staff are gaining additional tools to help them in their current jobs resulting in better outcomes for children and families.

There is tremendous opportunity in the out-of-school time realm to help children gain the academic and social-emotional skills needed to be successful in school and life. United Way of the Midlands’ Women’s Leadership Council realized success is dependent on the capabilities of the OST staff. Their decision to invest in staff is both visionary and cost effective because it helps so many – those working in the programs and the children and families served by the programs – making a difference for us all.