Pushing Youth Forward Instead of Out of Educational Systems

Groups throughout California are focusing on supporting students who are pushed out of the traditional education system due to systemic issues in their communities.

The film “The Pushouts” paints a startling reality. According to the film, one-third of Blacks and Latinos in the U.S. don’t graduate from high school, and two-thirds of these “dropouts” end up in the criminal justice system.

While society often dismisses those who leave high school prematurely as unmotivated “dropouts,” youth experts encourage us to examine our labels. The term “dropout” places all of the blame on the students, whereas the term “pushout” forces us to examine the forces that essentially push these students of schools — namely, poverty, racism, drugs and crime. The following organizations — all based in California — refuse to mislabel and leave these youth behind. Instead of pushing them out, they’re committed to pushing them forward with a host of wrap-around services.

A clip from the film “Pushouts” exploring the misunderstanding that students who drop out are giving up on their education.

Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ)

While statistics show that many pushouts wind up either in jail or in the juvenile justice system, what isn’t as evident is that these youth end up with a fresh criminal record but without a high school diploma when they serve their sentences, making it doubly difficult to obtain a good job and a secure future. That’s why in 2016, Oakland-based CURYJ (pronounced “Courage”) co-authored Prop 57, which sought to end a practice in California that allowed prosecutors to file charges against youth under 18 years old in adult criminal court. CURYJ youth galvanized their community to ensure that Prop 57 became law.

Lauren Brady, interim associate director of CURYJ, believes an important consideration is missing from the national conversation around youth incarceration. “Community-based solutions are more effective in keeping young people out of the justice system and building them into leaders in their communities than incarceration and other control-based law enforcement programs.”

CURYJ provides programs like life coaching for formerly incarcerated individuals, Homies 4 Justice internships and Dream Beyond Bars fellowships, which empower CURYJ youth to continue working to mitigate the issues in their communities that impact the pushout crisis.

To support CURYJ’s grassroots work, visit their website.

Kylaa Prejean paints a mural with her fellow youth members for La Feria de Septiembre, a RYSE annual event celebrating Chicanx, Latinx and Afro-Latinx heritage.

Homeboy Industries

Numerous factors pushed Roman Flores out of high school. However, in the summer of 2019 he received his GED through the Homeboy Industries’ GED Completion Program. Today he is enrolled in college and working toward a degree in kinesiology, with the goal of becoming a physical therapist or professional trainer. Flores says: “I came to Homeboy not knowing what kind of opportunities would open for me. Now, I’m a GED grad. I’m in college because of Homeboy. I’ve just turned into someone I never thought I would.”

Flores’ story is not unique. He is one of the thousands of young people whose lives have been transformed through Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, rehab and re-entry program in the world. The organization started in 1988 in Los Angeles under the leadership of Father Gregory Boyle. It serves formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women — those most likely to become pushouts and those who have already been pushed out. Homeboy Industries offers educational services, parenting classes, tattoo removal and its signature 18-month employment and re-entry program. In 2018 alone, 26,398 people attended classes through the organization.

“At Homeboy we look at the root causes: Poverty, lack of access to educational opportunities,” says Alison Lass, manager of Global Homeboy Network and media relations for the organization. Homeboy’s model has been duplicated by hundreds of nonprofits around the country through the Global Homeboy Network, which launched in 2014. The network helps community leaders ask and answer pivotal questions like, “What can we do to identify the issues and seek solutions to these root problems?”

If you’d like to support Homeboy Industries by giving your time or energy, or buying some tortilla chips — yes, tortilla chips — click here

A teacher uses uses algebra, Tupac and his father to discuss the relationship between education and rebellion in this clip of the film “The Pushouts.”

Hope for LA

Founded by Pacific Crossroads Church, Hope for LA is a local nonprofit that services other local nonprofits. Hope for LA’s motivation is clear: “The Bible and Jesus’ own words are full of encouragement to care for the poor and voiceless, and so our faith in action should reflect this,” says David Kleinknech, director of missions for Pacific Crossroads. Since 2017, the organization has given local nonprofits the people-power needed to accomplish their varied missions.

“There are so many challenges a youth faces in our city,” Kleinknecht continues, “We think about how can we be a part of removing challenges by being tutors, advocates, healthy role models, foster/adoptive parents, etc.” Hope for LA typically provides about 3,000 volunteers to approximately 20 organizations in Los Angeles every year.

To volunteer with Hope for LA, visit their website.

RYSE staff and youth leaders celebrate at the groundbreaking ceremony for RYSE Commons, a state of the art 37,000+ square foot community campus slated for completion Spring 2021.

RYSE Center

RYSE Center started in 2008, after several homicides occurred outside Richmond High School in Richmond, CA. “The young people felt frustrated by the lack of adult intervention and support and took it upon themselves to organize for the strategies and solutions they believed could address both the violence and the necessary healing,” says Kimberly Aceves-Iñiguez, executive director for RYSE.

For nearly 20 years, RYSE Center has provided safety, healing and opportunities to the residents of Richmond. Since its inception, young people have led by utilizing a social justice lens to create safe spaces that educate, heal and transform individuals and their communities. RYSE offers paid youth organizing internships for youth to develop public speaking skills through voter registration campaigns, as well as leadership skills via community organizing. RYSE youth can also create their own transformative art, from movies and documentaries to spoken word poetry. Because RYSE believes that the leaders of today are the youth of today, half of RYSE’s current staff have come out of the membership, says Aceves-Iñiguez.

Details about RYSE Center’s new youth-designed facility can be found here.


Alejandra Guizar, a graduate of Compton YouthBuild.

YouthBuild helps transitional youth ages 16-24, who are out of work and out of school, “return to build affordable housing in their communities,” says John Valverde, CEO of YouthBuild USA. “They become the providers of service after having been the recipients of service and public assistance,” which can include literally building houses or providing other community-enhancing services.

Valverde says that for many young people, including Compton, CA, resident Alejandra Guizar, the experience is transformative. Guizar left high school in 2013 after she became pregnant with her daughter. Her enrollment in YouthBuild provided the support she needed to complete school and make plans for the future, according to Valverde. In June, she spearheaded a Family Literacy Fun event with Compton YouthBuild to educate families in her community about the importance of reading for children and their families. Currently she’s preparing for college.

To support YouthBuild in its mission to help young people build themselves and their communities, click here.