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America’s Promise Alliance opens research center on Hill

Published: Monday, February 4, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 08:02


Courtesy Jon Zafi

The Department of Child Development has teamed up with America’s Promise Alliance to create the Center for Promise research facility, which is dedicated to improving students’ learning environments and conditions.

America’s Promise Alliance, a nationwide partnership that works to improve the lives of adolescents, in December announced its collaboration with the Department of Child Development to launch a new research facility called the Center for Promise, dedicated to bettering the lives of the country’s young people.

The Center will be a part of the Institute for Applied Research on Youth Development (IARYD) in the Eliot−Pearson Department of Child Development, according to the Alliance’s website.

America’s Promise Alliance has partnerships with over 400 organizations nationwide that work to better the lives of America’s youth, Vice President of Media Relations for America’s Promise Alliance Colleen Wilber said. Its current focus is the Grad Nation Campaign, a movement aiming to raise the national high school graduation rate from the current 75 percent to 90 percent by 2020, with no school graduating fewer than 80 percent.

“We’re really concerned with [asking] how young people grow up and become productive, active members of society,” Vice President for Research and Policy Development at America’s Promise Alliance Jonathan Zaff, a research associate professor of child development, said. “I think it’s very much aligned with the idea of what Tufts talks about with active citizenship.”

Zaff, who came to Tufts from Harvard University on the invitation of IARYD Director and Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science Richard Lerner, explained that specific research on all age groups is fundamental to looking at youth development. Every individual’s influences and experiences from pre−natal onward shape his or her potential prospects, he said.

Zaff noted that the focus on age−specific, community−based research and community involvement is beneficial to the students they work with in a number of ways.

“We work with [and] partner with numerous communities to understand how they’re doing their work [and] how different organizations come together around this important goal to ensure all their young people are growing up, graduating high school ready for college, work and life,” he said.

The Alliance began in 2011 to recognize communities across the country for their strong support of the Grad Nation campaign, Zaff said. On the list of Grad Nation Communities is the Somerville Promise Alliance, or “SomerPromise,” that has had representatives involved with the IARYD for the past two years.

“They’re right in our backyard,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we’d be helpful to kids in the surrounding area.”

Lerner said that the IARYD and the Alliance share goals that facilitated the collaboration. The IARYD looks to discover the inherent positive qualities each young person possesses while America’s Promise aims to provide the ‘Five Promises’ to ensure youth success, he said. According to Wilber, the fundamental resources include Caring Adults, Safe Places, A Healthy Start, Effective Education and Opportunities to Help Others.

“We [Americans] define ‘good’ in adolescence as the absence of bad,” Lerner said. “Our Institute is directly opposed to that. We want to find out what are the strengths in every young person and how can we use those strengths to promote thriving and positive development among the diversity of young people.”

The Alliance will raise awareness about the Center’s findings in future reports released throughout the year, Wilber said.

The “Building A Grad Nation Report,” which began in 2010, will continue as an annual progress report for the nation’s graduation rate goal with an analysis of what is and is not working.

“What we are very adamant about is not producing solely just collective reports that no one wants to read,” Wilber told the Daily. “We are very much an applied center and our whole purpose is to ensure that the knowledge that we believe is needed in the country [is] provided in any way we can.”

According to Wilber, America’s Promise Alliance aims to strengthen communities through a trusting partnership and then to synthesize the information gained through that partnership into shared knowledge.

Researchers often take advantage of vulnerable urban areas, she said, but the Alliance hopes to use their findings to directly benefit the reserach subjects.

“Hopefully the lessons that we’re learning from these communities can be incredibly helpful for those thousands of communities across the country,” she said.

Provost and Senior Vice President David Harris and President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance John Gomperts, along with Lerner and Zaff, gave words of support at the Dec. 11 launch event hosted by Dean of Arts and Sciences Lynne Pepall.

Tufts was the Alliance’s first choice when considering universities interested in housing the Center, Lerner said.

“I’m really proud that Tufts is getting such great visibility as a place to think about if you’re interested in positive youth development,” Lerner said. “We’re creating the knowledge that other people are putting into the textbooks.”

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