Leveling the Playing Field: Youth Policy Institute Los Angeles

By Linda Jacobson — November 01, 2005 2 min read
Joyce Moses leans over the table to make a point while tutoring students from the Los Angeles public schools in multiplication at the Youth Policy Institute's center in Pacoima.

In a workroom with computer stations along the walls, Joyce Moses sits across the table from two boys. The 8th and 9th graders are dressed almost identically, in jeans and white T-shirts.

Tonight’s topic is prime numbers, but Moses will also find it necessary to review odd and even numbers and multiplying by nine for the boys to get through the lesson.

“What we’re looking for is a number that can only be divided by one,” says Moses, as she points to a worksheet. “I’m going to teach you how to think about the problem before you do it.”

Moses is one of about 12 teachers tutoring Los Angeles Unified School District students for the Youth Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization running charter schools, after-school programs, and other youth-development and job-training services.

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Leveling the Playing Field

The former think tank is in its first year of providing supplemental educational services under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“It just kind of seemed like a natural progression,” said Dixon Slingerland, the executive director of the institute. “We had been doing this for so long with poor funding, why not do it with a well-funded program?”

Operating out of various community centers in Los Angeles and throughout the San Fernando Valley, YPI is tutoring roughly 330 disadvantaged students for two hours a week, but those numbers are expected to rise.

The institute’s goal for the students is to have them work in small groups on projects that address their particular academic weaknesses, but also integrate technology skills.

Youth Policy Institute

Founded: 1983 in Washington; moved to California in 1996.

Education Model: Nonprofit organization offers tutoring in small groups, focused on a project.

Size: Tutoring 330 students in LAUSD.

“It’s easy to make a simple Web site, and it’s starting to be a fad in school—having a technology portfolio,” says David A. Kietzman, the director of technology for youth services here at this site in a small strip shopping center. “They also have use of the Internet. Probably half of them don’t have it at their house.”

For Moses—who works as a business teacher at the school district’s James Monroe High School—tutoring in the evening gives her a chance to help some students who aren’t getting their needs met during the day.

“The best part about this program,” she says, “is that our math classes in high school have 40 kids. If Maria and Jose get behind, what can they do? Nothing.”

During her two-hour session with the boys, who nod their heads in agreement once in a while and give barely audible answers, Moses demonstrates a couple of methods for remembering the multiplication table for nine. The review is something, she says, that would not happen during the regular school day, because multiplying is not considered high school mathematics.

Instructing one of the boys to lay his hands flat on the table, she tries to get him to try a multiplication trick.

“If I can make a fool of myself, you can too,” she says, adding later, “I would jump on a table if it helped a kid learn the concept.”

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A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2005 edition of Education Week as Youth Policy Institute Los Angeles