Sitting At The Intersection of Research, Policy & Practice

By Marissa Cole, Managing Director of the CERES Institute for Children & Youth

In a box on my desk sits six years’ worth of reports and briefs, written by education and youth development researchers, aimed at informing policy and practice. In these reports, we center the voices of youth and community members. 

The best policies are informed and affirmed by research, and the deep experience and expertise that comes from individuals and communities. One alone is insufficient. 

The challenge is often that policymakers, researchers, and communities speak different languages and work at different speeds. This can lead to frustration and missed opportunities. However, we have shown that it is possible to conduct useful, relevant, rigorous, timely research. And when we find a way to share it with our colleagues in decision-making positions, we have shown that it is possible for our research to have practical applications.

Each report or brief on my desk represents a labor of love. Every image, every word painstakingly placed. I remember report launch dates as if they were my daughters’ due dates. On release day, our team exhales a sigh of relief, posting, sharing, and mailing, hoping others see the value in our work. 

For half my career I was on the receiving end of these reports, paging through education and youth policy research, marking up my favorites with sticky notes.

Fifteen years ago, working on comprehensive dropout prevention legislation in the Massachusetts State Senate, I relied on the expertise of community-based organizations, the stories I heard from youth, and the latest research to write memos, briefs, and finally, a bill. As a staffer, I lived behind the scenes and loved it there. I was happy to hide behind my boss since he was always the smartest, most thoughtful (and tallest!) policymaker in the room; each time we, his staff, represented him, we did our best to make him proud. 

I was an idealistic college student when the No Child Left Behind Act was introduced on Capitol Hill. As I dug into the proposed legislative language for a class project, I was surprised. While I wasn’t yet fluent in legislative speak, it was clear to me that those who wrote the language had not fully taken into account how children develop and learn. I was a child development major and spent a lot of my spare time in preschool classrooms. I always thought I’d end up teaching preschool after college, but in that moment, I first considered that there needed to be more individuals focused on child and youth development in policymaking roles. And that I wanted to join them. Since then I’ve spent half my career working in government and the other half in nonprofits that focus on education and youth development research and policy.

What particularly excites me about launching the CERES Institute for Children & Youth is the opportunity to place young people and their families at the heart of our research and to share it widely. It’s what will give our policymakers the foundation to write policy that really makes a better future for our young people. And to stand by that policy through its signing into law. When community-engaged research and evaluation is accompanied by collective discussion and learning, we can all come together to focus on what actually benefits young people.

I know legislators and decision-makers want real, useful information. Hearing from their constituents on a piecemeal basis is useful, but they also need to know what hundreds or thousands of parents, educators, youth are experiencing across their district and across the country. They want to base their legislative decisions on the lived experiences of our children and youth.

That’s why we’re here and we can’t wait to get started.

I know legislators and decision-makers want real, useful information. Hearing from their constituents on a piecemeal basis is useful, but they also need to know what hundreds or thousands of parents, educators, youth are experiencing across their district and across the country. They want to base their legislative decisions on the lived experiences of our children and youth.

Marissa Cole is the Managing Director of the CERES Institute for Children & Youth. A Massachusetts native, Marissa has 15 years of experience at the intersection of research, practice, and policy in nonprofit, government, and higher education settings.

Current Initiatives

Relationship-Focused Schools Initiative

Relationship-Focused Schools Initiative

In partnership with MENTOR (the National Mentoring Partnership), CERES Institute is working with a set of school districts on how they can develop a “relationships strategy” for their schools. CERES Institute will serve as a research and evaluation partner for MENTOR during this three-year initiative.

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Choices and Challenges

Choices and Challenges

In Florida, thanks to a robust school choice environment, parents of students with disabilities have access to several educational options through two specific statewide scholarship programs. To shed light on how parents utilize these scholarships, a team of researchers from CERES Institute for Children and Youth, in partnership with the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, share findings from a mixed-methods study, conducted between fall 2020 to spring 2021, as well as implications for policy and practice.

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Debate-Inspired Classrooms Learning Plan

Debate-Inspired Classrooms Learning Plan

How can Debate-Inspired Classrooms better engage students as leaders in their own learning? The CERES Institute for Children & Youth is partnering with the Boston Debate League and Boston Public Schools’ Dr. William W. Henderson Inclusion School to answer this question and more.

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Evaluation of the Department of Youth Services’ YES Initiative

Evaluation of the Department of Youth Services’ YES Initiative

The CERES Institute for Children & Youth is examining how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Youth Services’ Youth Engaged in Services Initiative – the YES Initiative – provides voluntary individualized supports to youth involved with the juvenile justice system and the impact of the YES Initiative on youth recidivism rates.

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The Center for Promise

The Center for Promise

The Center for Promise is the applied research institute of America’s Promise Alliance, housed at Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. Its mission is to develop a deep understanding of the conditions necessary for young people in the United States to succeed in school and life.

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