For the past eight years, Yazeed A. Moore has been responsible for grantmaking within the Mott Foundation’s Vulnerable Youth portfolio. A member of the Foundation’s Pathways Out of Poverty team since 2002, Moore recently sat down with Ann Richards, a member of the Foundation’s communications staff, to discuss his portfolio.
Mott: “Vulnerable youth” is a pretty broad label. Can you clarify what it means in terms of the Mott Foundation’s grantmaking?
|Yazeed A. Moore
We use “vulnerable youth” to describe our focus on young people ages 16 through 24 who have dropped out of school or who are at-risk of dropping out. To put it a little differently, our grantmaking targets young people who are over-age and under-credited for their grade level.
Our strategy is to identify and support interventions that will help students who are off-track for graduation re-engage in school and work. We also fund a number of national organizations to examine and advance policies at the federal, state and local level to identify barriers that prevent students from re-entering the school/work pipeline — which then helps in designing and testing these interventions.
Mott: What has the Foundation discovered through its grantmaking to assist over-age, under-credited students?
We’ve learned a lot over the past several years, but I think the biggest “aha” moment for us was gaining a better understanding about why kids drop out. The field has become a lot smarter about identifying indicators that can predict whether students are on the right path toward eventual graduation — and we know now that it’s not always academic problems that keep them from finishing school. That knowledge has helped us shape better responses and provide a better system of supports to help these students achieve. And it’s important to remember that we’re talking about a lot of kids — of the roughly four million high school students who are supposed to graduate each year, only three million will receive diplomas. That’s a million kids we’re talking about. And the numbers are even greater if we include young people who are a bit older and are not in school or working.
Mott: Since 2008, Mott has supported the development of Schools for the Future, a competency-based, alternative approach to completing high school. What prompted you to grant the R&D funding to create this model?
Schools for the Future represents a recovery model for young people who have dropped out or are performing significantly below grade level, meaning they’ve been retained two or more times in elementary or middle school. The most exciting part of this model — for me — is that it accelerates learning in a meaningful way by blending a foundation of highly targeted classroom activities with a full range of online and community-based learning opportunities where students learn both inside and outside the classroom. It rewards and emphasizes the mastery of concepts, not time.
Several years ago, the Mott Foundation helped fund the development of Diploma Plus, another alternative education model. Through the years, I stayed in touch with Ephraim Weisstein, who developed that model, because we both have an interest in pushing the envelope — in terms of developing educational strategies that address the very diverse needs of vulnerable kids. Ephraim used Mott funding to take that next step and thankfully, his research resulted in a good product, one that other funders are interested in supporting. Schools for the Future is now being piloted in Jacksonville, Florida, and, next year, in Detroit.
Mott: Tell us a little about your own background and how you landed at Mott.
I started at the other end of philanthropy — fundraising
in higher education. After working in higher education for about three years, I went to graduate school to complete a Masters in Public Affairs at Indiana University. In order to complete my program of study, I needed an internship in the public sector. Being somewhat familiar with the work of foundations in general, I wrote to Mott because its mission really spoke to me. I was lucky they offered me an internship which turned into a job after I graduated.
I grew up in Gary, Indiana, and attended typical urban, inner-city schools from K-12. Again, I was lucky. I had a mother who encouraged me and a guidance counselor who saw something in me and got me involved in the Upward Bound Program. There were countless others who helped me see that a better life was possible through hard work and a little luck.
All through my life, I had the support of different networks — advocates, mentors, counselors. Unfortunately, the kids who are the beneficiaries of the programs Mott funds don’t always have these supports in place. I’m very fortunate to work for an institution that values better educational experiences for students who don’t get the luck of the draw or who just need a second chance.