Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy

Children, Youth and Families

Muskie School receives grant to lead systems change in Portland high schools

Nellie Mae Education Foundation Logo

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation has chosen the Muskie School to serve as the Lead Community Partner of its District Level Systems Change Initiative for the Portland Public School District. The initiative, which has been underway since 2012 in four New England communities (Portland, Maine; Sanford, Maine; Pittsfield, New Hampshire; and Burlington/Winooski, Vermont), involves the restructuring of public high school education to make it more student-centered.

The role of a Lead Community Partner is to ensure that meaningful parent, youth, and community engagement occurs within and outside of District decision-making during the systems change process, and beyond. In this role, Muskie’s youth and community engagement (YCE) staff will work to build mechanisms throughout the Portland Public School District for parents, students, and community members to exercise leadership and have authentic voice in education, with an emphasis on groups who traditionally have been underserved or marginalized.

Key staff of this project include policy associates Erica King and Emily Thielmann and YCE specialist Pious Ali.

Cutler Institute awarded $600,000 to help youth raised in foster system

Marty Zanghi

USM's Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy has been awarded a $600,000 grant to help young people raised in Maine's foster system to prepare for college and the workforce.

The money comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation as part of a $5.4 million national effort aimed at youth who are homeless or in either the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

"Many of these young people have suffered abuse or trauma and were raised in poverty and neglect," said Marty Zanghi, the Cutler Center's youth development director.

The money -- including an expected $400,000 more in matching funds -- will pay for contracted work with agencies in the target areas, starting with the greater Portland area and Penobscot, Kennebec and Somerset counties.

Nationally and in Maine, only about 3 percent of people who grow up in the foster care system achieve a college degree, he said.

"It's dramatically lower than the rate for the general population," Zanghi said. "It's a horrible outcome."

It doesn't have to be that way, though.

"There are young people that overcome these circumstances," he said. "I know people who have master's degrees and Ph.Ds."

The Casey Foundation's national effort is being called the "Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential" (LEAP) initiative.

The initiative is working on partnerships in Maine and nine other areas: Alaska, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and New York. In each case, people will adapt two evidence-based models to meet the needs of these youth, including support to address the trauma they may have experienced in their lives.

In Maine, the work will include a pair of successful programs, Jobs for Maine Graduates (JMG) and Jobs for the Future. Results will be carefully tracked, Zanghi said.

After the first year, the program is expected to grow.

"Eventually, the additional help will be available to all children, 14 and over, in the foster care system in the state of Maine," Zanghi said.

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