Shiya Brown was a Richmond Public Schools student at Lucille Brown Middle School in 2015. When she became a member of the second cohort of NextUp RVA, she explored several extracurricular programs that helped her grow academically and creative.
“In middle school, I was really into art and writing,” Shiya said in a recent interview. “[Taking] these programs have really helped me develop written assignments.
Other programs such as economics and robotics have tapped into his analytical and problem-solving abilities. Shiya used these skills to recently graduate with a 4.0 GPA from Huguenot High School. The next step in her academic journey will come when she begins pre-nursing studies at Old Dominion University this fall. She plans to focus on newborn development and disorders for a possible career in neonatology.
Another Lucille Brown Middle School alumna, Ja’Nay Worsely, also spoke about her experience with the nonprofit NextUp through the North Side YMCA of Greater Richmond. She learned to DJ at Spin Academy and participated in “Y Achievers,” a program that Ja’Nay says helped “build an academic and social foundation for high school.”
It’s a foundation that will continue to support the recent graduate of Richmond Community High School as a biology major at Wilberforce University in Ohio, where she will pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.
Since its launch in 2014 at Thomas H. Henderson Middle School, NextUp RVA has coordinated more than 60 community providers to deliver high-quality after-school programs at no cost to any middle school student attending Albert Hill, Boushall, Lucille Brown, Martin Luther King Colleges Jr., River City or Thomas H. Henderson.
Studies have shown that such after-school programs benefit not only the young participants and their families, but also entire communities. The Interagency Task Force on Youth Programs lists effective after-school programs on its website, ranging from support for social and emotional learning to significant return on investment. Increasing the earning potential of young people through improved educational outcomes, as well as a reduction in crime and juvenile delinquency, can save $3 or more for every $1 invested.
Yet barriers such as family income, available transportation, and neighborhood safety can mean that access to such programs is often less than favorable. According to state education data, more than half of RPS students are economically disadvantaged — a fact that NextUp RVA says contributes to what educators call an “opportunity gap.”
To fill these gaps, NextUp has provided nearly 2,000 RPS middle school students with learning outside of the classroom in areas including athletics, health, STEM, arts, mentorship, and leadership.
The successes of program participants such as Shiya and Ja’Nay are reflected in the data NextUp has seen so far. In a recent phone interview, Anderson Hayes, communications manager for NextUp RVA, said that 92% of its inaugural 2014-15 cohort graduated on time, compared to 78% of their peers. Graduation rate data for its second cohort is expected to be available later this year.
Mr Hayes also said enrollment was open for the upcoming 2022-23 school year. Eligible middle school students can register by asking their parents or guardians to register them online through NextUp’s Parent Portal by October 2.
Additionally, NextUp RVA plays a central role in Richmond’s efforts to curb rising gun violence. The nonprofit oversees the distribution of $1 million in City Positive Youth Development Fund grants to community organizations providing mental health services, parenting support, tutoring, mentoring and programs extracurriculars.
The first round of grant recipients was announced in June. In a press release, Mayor Levar M. Stoney highlighted the benefits of local community providers saying, “Grassroots organizations that know and work in the community will help ensure that those closest to affected communities have the resources necessary to disrupt the cycle of violence. , and encourage the positive development of our youngest residents.
“Every child deserves the opportunity to discover their talents and to stay safe and supported and ultimately thrive,” NextUp RVA CEO Barbara Sipe said in the same statement. “The more our efforts are coordinated, the wider our reach, the greater the impact we can have on children’s present and future.”
This positive impact is something both Shiya and Ja’Nay have experienced in the NextUp program.
“NextUp RVA is a fantastic opportunity for kids to get out and have fun after school instead of coming straight home,” Ja’Nay said.
Debora Timms, freelance writer for Richmond Free Press, contributed to this article.