We are extremely honored and excited to announce our latest education pilot program, Promotor Pathway. A collaborative partnership with Latin American Youth Center and Newport-Mesa Unified School District, the intervention model connects students struggling with homelessness with a single experienced promotor, or mentor, who will continue to support and guide them through age 24.
Project Hope Alliance CEO Jennifer Friend first learned of LAYC'S method during an East Coast conference. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit found that longterm support by a single advocate builds trust and stability in homeless, disenfranchised, or traumatized children, and holds the power to dramatically uplift them. Seeing these results, Jennifer became inspired to incorporate the Promotor Pathway program into our own education program. After meeting with LAYC leadership, both organizations agreed that this was a perfect partnership.
Promotor Pathway innovates by pairing students ages 14-24 with a single mentor, removing the common transportation barrier by providing mentor proximity to students, and extending assistance beyond high school—a milestone at which most programs and services for homeless high school students end.
Friend approached NMUSD, which agreed that the model was not only effective, but also critical for its students struggling with homelessness. The partnership was approved in December 2015. Funded, managed and staffed by PHA, Promotor Pathway will operate out of Newport Harbor High School and serve as many as 50 young learners in need.
"The students at Newport Harbor High facing poverty as youth are increasingly likely to drop out of school and to face challenges of poverty as they're entering adulthood," PHA Development & Communications Manager Susi Diaz told the OC Register in a recent interview. "Young people experiencing homelessness are essentially in crisis mode. A lot of basic life skills—planning over the long term, coming at concrete steps to achieving goals, budgeting, getting school work done, filling out applications—those can be a luxury for homeless children."
NMUSD considers any student who lacks a fixed and adequate nighttime residence as homeless. During the 2013-2014 school year, the district recorded 202 enrolled homeless students. According to the Orange County Department of Education, there are more than 32,500 children, grades K-12, struggling with homelessness in all of Orange County. Children experiencing homelessness are nine times more likely to repeat a grade, four times more likely to drop out of school, and three times more likely to be placed in special education programs than their housed peers, per the Institute for Children, Poverty, & Homelessness. They're also 50 percent more likely to perform below grade level in both reading and spelling, and 150 percent more likely to perform below grade level in math. Promotor Pathway aims to significantly shrink and ultimately eliminate these gaps.
With backgrounds as youth development workers, mentors, and intensive case managers, promotores collaborate with school staff and help homeless youth develop skills to excel in school, transition to work, and practice healthy habits. PHA will provide two experienced promotores for the pilot program. Its sequential goals include supporting students to graduate high school, attend college or obtain post-secondary education, and earn a job with longterm career potential.
"As a homeless student who attended NMUSD and a parent of two children currently at NMUSD, I am extremely honored to bring this program to the district," said Friend.
Promotores are available to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week. PHA Director of Programs Nicole Delaney detailed the commitment to the L.A. Times: "These are intensive case managers and mentors to the students who will also be accessible by cell phone. They're really there for whatever the students need assistance with, even if it's just an ear to listen that they need."
Delaney added, "Being a homeless child in an affluent community does bring extra layers of shame. It makes you glaringly more aware that you are in more need. That's why we're excited about this partnership and that the [NMUSD] staff was really open to addressing this need."
"The goal is for the promotores to stay with the students until that age  in order to support their educational, employment and healthy living goals," NMUSD Mental Health & Outreach Services Coordinator Melissa Hurd told the Times. "By doing this, they maintain a consistent relationship with them starting from their high school career all the way until they enter the work environment."
In partnership with Project Hope Alliance, NMUSD is the first school district in California to adopt Promotor Pathway. Regions already implementing the program include Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Oregon.