Research focusing on the “brain drain” in rustbelt cities bemoans the flight of college-educated locals to the bigger, brighter urban centers. A number of local organizations are focused on the very real brain drain we as a community experience when our lower-income youth fail to reach their potential. The success of one of those organizations, Open Doors Academy, is something to applaud and support.
Open Doors Academy, or ODA, offers year round enrichment programming, after school and during the summer, in a safe and structured environment. Over the last two decades, ODA has grown to 13 locations in Cleveland and the inner-ring suburbs, 10 in middle schools and three in high schools. Their graduation and post-secondary education statistics indicate a proven formula for success. Students who participate in Open Doors Academy for three or more years have a 100% high school graduation rate. This is an astounding statistic. But wait - 97% have gone on to post-secondary education at a college or trade school. ODA alumni are currently present at Harvard, Purdue, Cornell, Ohio State, and Columbia, among many others.
The ODA model for middle school enrichment programming includes four key elements: character development, health and wellness, arts and culture, and global social education. Through the school year Open Doors Academy operates from 2:30 - 6:00 Monday through Friday. Their goal is to address developmental barriers that inhibit the learning process, provide youth with a safe environment to explore their own interests, and open doors to opportunities that otherwise would not be available.
The opportunity gap based on family income is well documented. Families making less than $20,000 a year spend an average of 1.5% of their income on education opportunities, or about $300, according to a U.S. Department of Labor Statistics study from 2012. Families who bring in $150,00 or more annually spend 4.4% or $6,600 on educational opportunities like after-school clubs and organizations, sports programs, travel, summer camps, coaching and tutoring.
“Of course, we can't duplicate all opportunities for everyone,” says Annemarie M. Grassi, the CEO of Open Doors Academy. “But we can give challenged youth a leg up by offering long-term, family-inclusive academic and character development programming, in partnership with schools and existing community services. If we set a high bar for youth and families, and deliver solid, evidence-based programming, we can realize better results than schools can acting alone.”
To maintain the momentum started in middle school, ODA prepares high school scholars for life after graduation. Programming consists of bi-weekly academic tutoring, opportunities for volunteering in the community, paid summer internships, weekly evening apprenticeships focused on developing 21st century work skills, college tours, national service learning trips, and individual mentoring and support. Each student is expected to complete 75 hours of community service a year, maintain a minimum of a 2.8 GPA, and meet with their mentor at least once a month to establish both short-term and long-term goals targeted towards their career path.
There are plenty of opportunities to help Open Doors Academy accomplish their mission to protect, inspire, nurture and challenge adolescents to reach their full potential. Their 6th annual benefit, The Frolic, will be held at the House of Blues on May 6th. Check with your employer to see if it offers a matching charitable gift program so that your donation can be doubled. As a volunteer opportunity, I was able to speak with kids at the Urban Community School and the Roxboro Middle School last year about my job as a public defender. They were looking at legal careers and had some great questions for me. This past holiday our family sponsored an ODA family for Christmas. We chose what size family we were comfortable sponsoring and around Thanksgiving we were given a list of family members with clothing sizes and a wish list. Christmas shopping was never so meaningful for us.
Open Doors Academy plans to expand to additional sites over the next five years. A dozen schools, however, are currently on the waiting list to launch ODA programming at their facilities. This expansion of a proven model for maximizing opportunities can only happen with the financial support and involvement of our community. Let’s not lose the amazing potential of another mind to the brain drain.
Open Doors Academy
1427 East 36th Street, Suite 4206A
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