Supporting Successful Transitions into College and Careers for Youth with Learning Differences

At local YouthBuild programs around the world, low-income learners develop career skills on job sites by building community assets and low-income housing. Its grant allows YouthBuild to reach youth with learning differences through (1) improvements to its MyBestBets website that helps youth earn explore post-secondary opportunities to earn work credentials in high demand fields and (2) developing YouthBuild’s instructional leaders’ skills to better meet the needs of students with learning differences through a teacher fellowship.

“I was just handling what was in front of me, and thought in college I would just figure it out – but now I feel like I have the information that makes me ready for college. MyBestBets opened up my mind.”

–  Student and user of MyBestBets at South Brooklyn Community High School



YouthBuild USA provides an opportunity for “opportunity youth” to reclaim their educations, gain the skills they need for employment, and become leaders in their communities. Unemployed young people who left high school without a diploma, sometimes called “disconnected” or “opportunity youth,” are in urgent need of pathways to education, jobs, entrepreneurship, and other opportunities leading to productive livelihoods. YouthBuild USA has built a robust network of 260 urban and rural YouthBuild programmes offering these pathways in 46 states. Students spend roughly half their time in supportive individualized classrooms working toward their high school diploma or equivalent. They also engage in “Community Asset Building,” which imparts clear, demand-driven technical skills and soft skills development through the process of building homes, schools, clinics, parks, playgrounds, water systems, and other community infrastructure in their communities.





About the project: With Oak’s support, YouthBuild USA is advancing two different strategies to reach opportunity youth with learning differences and improve their educational and career outcomes. There is strong evidence that opportunity youth who leave school before earning a diploma, or who become involved in the juvenile justice system, disproportionately have learning differences.  With so many youth on a pathway toward disconnection as a result of being poorly understood in the classroom, YouthBuild is seeking to refine its support to be more responsive to the unique needs of youth with learning differences. First, it is expanding and refining its MyBestBets web platform, which helps students identify their strengths and interests and explore potential careers. YouthBuild is partnering with learning differences experts and gathering user feedback to ensure new iterations are highly accessible. Second, it is implementing a coaching model through a cadre of “lead teachers” who will cultivate an awareness of learning differences and offer strategies for working with diverse learners to educators throughout the organisation.



  • Approximately 1 in 5 young people, age 16-24, are not connected to work or education in the United States.

  • Approximately 70 percent of youth who enter the juvenile justice system have a mental health, sensory or learning disability.




For information about this grant, please visit our Grant Database.





1.  Strengthen teacher capacity

2.  Engage students




- Postsecondary

- Youth Voices

- Universal Design for Learning

- 1 in 5









In the media




Contact person for Oak LDP grant

Name: Jason Marshall


Email: jmarshall@youthbuild.org



Website & social media links

What have you accomplished through your Oak-funded programme that you’re most proud to share with your colleagues?


More than 20 YouthBuild educators have developed expertise for incorporating instructional strategies responsive to learning differences. These educators will be training a national and international network of other educators across a network of more than 260 YouthBuild programs and schools reaching more than 9000 learners annually.




What’s the most interesting challenge your Oak-funded programme currently faces?


The most interesting challenge facing our partners centers around our efforts at Compass Academy to simultaneously achieve and drive outcomes in student achievement, social emotional development and bi-literacy. Not only is Compass Academy a new endeavor that requires rapid learning and improvement, but we are also trying to do something different and dynamic in education — instill in students, teachers, staff, and families the core Learner & Leader competencies that enable success in today’s rapidly changing world. There is no existing blueprint for how to get this right, which means we must be vigilant in documenting what we learn so that, in the long-term, we create a plan that benefits and inspires others in our community and the field.





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Oak Foundation commits its resources to address issues of global, social and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. With offices in Europe, Africa, India and North America, we make grants to organisations in approximately 40 countries worldwide.

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