#9: Responding To A Crisis — Shakari Fraser, Earn and Learn Senior Manager at the Cowen Institute — A Series Documenting How New Orleans Educators and Schools Are Reacting To COVID-19

This is the ninth in a series of interviews and Q&As conducted by the Cowen Institute with New Orleans educators to highlight how schools are managing with the current COVID-19 outbreak.

In this edited Q&A, we continue our updates on how the programs at the Cowen Institute are responding to the COVID crisis. This is an interview with Shakari Fraser, the Senior Manager of Earn and Learn, our paid pre-apprenticeship program for New Orleans opportunity youth.

For those who are unfamiliar, can you describe your program and the services that you provide?

The Earn and Learn Career Pathways program is a paid pre-apprenticeship program for New Orleans opportunity youth that provides on-the-job training in one of three in-demand local industries; a paid full- or part-time job connected to a career pathway; soft and technical skills training; industry-based certifications; career coaching; wraparound support like bus passes, childcare stipends, and connection to mental health services; and ongoing engagement post-graduation. The Earn and Learn Career Pathways addresses the needs of young people in New Orleans between the ages of 18 and 24 who are neither working nor in school.

How has COVID impacted your ability to provide services? Have you had to shut down or dramatically change any aspects of your program due to the quarantine?

All in-person programming has been suspended at this time. Earn and Learn has transitioned to virtual programming. Our participants and alumni benefit from virtual trainings in career planning, mindfulness practices, and soft skill development. Earn and Learn staff are working remotely and continuing to provide participants with skills and tools to succeed.

How are you communicating with participants in your program right now?

The Earn and Learn team is offering virtual programming and case management. We are in contact with our participants, alumni and partners, to provide guidance and support.

How often are you reaching out to them?

Earn and Learn hosts virtual group check-in meetings weekly to identify triumphs and challenges within the Earn and Learn community. Individual case management check-ins occur bi-weekly or can be requested on an as needed basis if more frequent check-ins are required.

When you are interacting with the participants in your program, how are they adjusting to the crisis?

COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on Earn and Learn participants and alumni. They have experienced disruptions in their employment and are learning to cope with the loss of income. During this period of remoteness, they are identifying ways to seek self-fulfillment while also pursuing resources that tend to their basic needs. To assist with this we are providing ongoing assistance with unemployment applications, sharing essential job openings and connections to mental health services.

What are the most common services or assistance that your participants need at this point and what are you providing?

The most common resources Earn and Learn participants have communicated a need for are knowledge about job openings, rental assistance, and assistance with food.

Are participants able to complete the educational components of your program during the quarantine?

We have transitioned as much programming as possible to virtual formats. Participants have experienced a reduction of hours in regards to on-the-job learning. Certification courses are ongoing and have transition to virtual learning and remote examinations.

The mission of the Cowen Institute is to advance public education and youth success in New Orleans and beyond.

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