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SOY (Supporting Our Youth) Pittsburgh - Latino Community Center

SOY Pgh promotes academic success for Latino youth through developing pride in students' heritage language and culture!

SOY Pittsburgh is an evidence-based, bilingual PK-5th grade out-of-school time program that prepares students for success in school and life through academics, experiential learning, social-emotional development, and cultural empowerment. Students in SOY Pgh cement their confidence that they are the future of Pittsburgh while simultaneously developing pride in their identity as Latinos.



HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.

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February 2019
Everyone should be caring about this. We are training the workforce of the future here in Pittsburgh…ten years from now these kids are going to be the people that are going to be employed. It's directly going to impact our region.

About the innovation

What is SOY (Supporting Our Youth) Pittsburgh - Latino Community Center

In recent years, the changing landscape of Pittsburgh's population has brought both exciting opportunities and challenges. As more Latinos have settled in the region, Pittsburgh's traditional monolingual approach to education, human services, and general systems and structures are no longer effective to enable all of its residents to thrive. This has given rise to the need for programs such as SOY (Supporting Our Youth) Pittsburgh, the only bilingual after school program in Allegheny County.

The mission of SOY Pittsburgh is to help Latino students close the existing academic achievement gap, developing pride in who they are as Latinos and preparing them for their future as Pittsburgh’s next generation of leaders. SOY Pittsburgh seeks to empower Latino youth to take pride in their heritage, and to prepare them for a successful future through four program goals:

  • Academic Advancement

  • Cultural Empowerment

  • Social-Emotional Development

  • Family Engagement

The students who participate in SOY Pittsburgh have a bright future ahead. Unfortunately, school data demonstrates that there is a large achievement gap between Latino students and their white peers, and as such academic advancement is a foundational program goal. Students in SOY receive daily homework help and tutoring, in addition to personalized practice through evidence-based, online accounts in bilingual reading and math that are monitored by program staff. The Out-of-School Time Supervisor analyzes individual student data at both the school and program level, in addition to what is observed through student-staff interaction, to tailor support to student need. A cornerstone of both SOY Pittsburgh's academic advancement and cultural empowerment goals is bilingual language development. A unique and important piece of SOY Pittsburgh's programming is that we recruit Latino and Spanish-speaking volunteers to tutor the students, providing them with successful role models to whom they can relate and look up to.

In this climate of anti-immigration sentiment permeating the United States, it is critical that students in SOY Pittsburgh take pride in their heritage, which includes developing both their Spanish and English language skills. There is extensive research demonstrating the benefits of bilingualism, and this is key for our students. Currently, the students in SOY Pittsburgh range in language skills from those who are fluent in Spanish and new to English to those who are fluent in English and experiencing the loss of their native Spanish. Our program staff includes certified elementary school teachers specializing in Spanish and English as a Second Language (ESL) who can help students' skills develop at a personal level. In addition to language development, SOY Pittsburgh programming builds students' knowledge of their heritage through community partnerships. Through our Artist in Residence program, in partnership with the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, students work with a Mexican-American visual artist to explore art from their countries of heritage and a Puerto Rican musician to learn music from their native countries. Our partnership with Los Sabrosos Dance, Co.allows students to learn various Latin dances, connecting them through movement to their heritage, and our collaboration with Google's "Hola" group of Hispanic employees gives our SOY students the opportunity to learn coding from Spanish speakers in the tech industry. All of our partnerships and collaborations provide our students with the opportunity to interact with Latino professionals who are successful in their fields, a way to open doors to the future for our students who may have limited experiences.

SOY Pittsburgh's goal of social-emotional development is threaded throughout our programming as the staff builds positive, caring relationships with students. As many of our students have experienced trauma through adverse experiences, it is crucial that SOY is a safe and positive place for them to learn and have fun each day. Furthermore, SOY Pittsburgh is one of only two after school programs in the United States that is implementing The Positivity Project (P2), a national movement that helps students build positive relationships through identifying character strengths in themselves and others. This evidence-based model is moving our students towards being positive, caring individuals and away from the isolation and negativity that many have previously experienced.

Family engagement, the final goal of SOY Pittsburgh, is crucial when working with a community that can feel isolated or marginalized due to language and immigration concerns. Families whose children take part in SOY Pittsburgh attend at least three Latino Community Center/ SOY Pittsburgh events per year, including family meetings, parent education, and/or volunteer opportunities. The SOY Pittsburgh staff also supports our families with interpretation, school conferences, and advocacy to ensure students are receiving the educational supports and services they need. From the start of SOY Pittsburgh to March of 2019, we have observed the families of SOY Pittsburgh grow from a group of disconnected parents to a supportive community of families that help and care about one another. Families existing within this more connected community thrive, which leads to more positive outcomes for our SOY students.

Implementation steps

Determine there is a true need

  • Conduct a needs assessment if possible that includes getting the perspective and the voices of the families and students you would be looking to serve. You can also do this via one-on-one interview style. In this process, ask the students and families what they would like to see in an after-school program.

  • Look at national and local data. In this process, look at the schools that have higher percentages of Latino/ immigrant students.

  • Meet with school district personnel and principals from the schools identified in your research as having a high percentage of Latino/ immigrant students. Interview them on their challenges and needs as it relates to working with the Latino Community (or community you are looking to support).

  • Analyze your data and find out what are the areas of opportunity.

  • Check to see if there is already a program doing this. If there is, interview them to understand if they are truly meeting the need with high quality programming.

Connect with Potential Partners

  • Confirm support from the school district and the schools in which you are hoping to start this program. Talk about what resources they can bring to the table (room availability, possible staff time, support with outreach, and data!). Talk about what would be needed to do this in their school (insurance requirements, time restrictions, transportation).

  • Meet with local Latino/a/x artists (or those of the cultural background of the community you are looking to support) and inquire about Artist in Residency Programs. Determine the cost.

  • Research opportunities for collaboration and partnership with your local libraries, museums, technology companies, etc.

  • Get estimates of possible costs for these partnerships

  • If during Step 1 you identified a specific area that is in need of support (i.e., math), look for partners that can teach this in a creative way.

  • Check to see if there is a local food program that can provide meals for free to after-school-programs.

  • Identify partners that will be able to provide stable tutors for the students. Look into colleges and universities, or high schools near your area with a volunteering requirement.

Project Plan & Budget

  • Work on a logic model that clearly states what your goals and objectives are, and how you will reach them. This must include benchmarks and data points you will be tracking to ensure you are having an impact.

  • Align the time availability and space availability the school has provided you. These will be the parameters you will be working with.

  • Once you have these two points create a schedule that includes tutoring time, heritage language development time, and snack and dinner time. With the remaining time available, plan for community partners that will bring in the cultural empowerment activities. Make sure to include a movement and physical activity time.

  • Determine teacher to student ratio. This may be determined by requirements from one of the potential partners, or you may decide this based on best-practices.

  • Develop a budget: take into account the quotes you received from previous steps, ensure fair wages for the staff you will need to hire, and prepare for supplies, start-up costs, and needed technology.

Seek Funding

  • Ask for Letters of Support from the potential partners identified.

  • Ask for Letters of Support from community members.

  • Request to meet with local foundations, your local United Way, and your local Children Youth and Families funders to present your program.

  • Create a sponsorship packet to present to corporations.

Build A Strong Team

  • You can start working on job descriptions before you receive funding.

  • For the person leading this program, ensure they have a degree in early education and experience teaching children who have limited English proficiency. This is key, since first and foremost you want to ensure academic success!

  • You will need bilingual staff in Spanish and English, preferably with an education background as well. One of these individuals will be responsible for teaching Spanish.

Create Program Materials - Logistics

Certain program materials should be developed at the beginning so they can be shared with families, even though they may change as your program grows and develops. Examples include:

  • Program registration forms

  • Program handbook with policies and procedures

  • Incident report forms

  • Program schedule

Recruit Students for the Program

  • Create a flier to send home to families in the target community. Make sure it's in the correct language(s)!

  • Hold at least one information session.

  • Collect registration forms to enroll students - depending on the needs of your community, these could be paper forms and/or online forms.

  • Make sure to keep detailed records of the students who enroll.

  • NOTE- if you need support with locating families, work with local schools. If you have any program limitations (ex: you can only accept a certain number of students), be very clear about this.

Plan Daily Program
Utilize the daily schedule to plan activities for each day based on program goals, student needs, and visiting partners.
Hold a Program Orientation

Plan the orientation for sometime the week prior to the start of the program, taking into account the schedules of families. Use this time to go over:

  • Program Goals

  • Program Schedule - this includes daily, and any holidays or potential cancellations if you live in an area where weather can pose a problem

  • Daily activities, including any partnerships you will have

  • Expectations of Parents

  • Policies (attendance, pick up policies, late policies)

This is also a great time to answer any questions families may have!

Run the After School Program

Running a program is wonderful, and working with children brings new joys and challenges every day! Be flexible, patient, and constantly alert for new ways to grow, challenge, and engage your students. Don't forget the details...

  • Track attendance

  • Data! Keep your own records, and collaborate with school personnel to track academic progress and specific areas of need.

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