Meet our Senior Fellow, Stephanie Malia Krauss!
CERES Institute for Children & Youth
Stephanie, we are thrilled to have you as part of the CERES Institute team and to work together on some new projects and initiatives.
You come to this work as an educator, a social worker, a school leader, a policy advisor, a parent. How has your career and personal journey shaped your thinking on what young people need to be successful in the first quarter of their lives?
The question I have always asked is, what does it really take to be ready for life. As a high school dropout, I wondered what I needed to be ready for college without a diploma. As an 18-year-old college graduate, I had no idea what it would take to be ready to start teaching with Teach For America. As a teacher, the question of youth readiness transitioned from my journey to my students. I saw where academic preparation paid off, but also where it fell short.
To be ready for the next grade, my students needed more than content mastery. Unfortunately, my teacher training had not equipped me to address those broader social, emotional, and economic needs. My desire to do more to get my students ready motivated me to leave the classroom and become a social worker. Social work school provided the more holistic training I needed.
That training paid off when I started an education nonprofit and high school for opportunity youth in St. Louis. Our school was the first of its kind in the state: competency-based, with paid work-based learning opportunities, access to counselors on-site, assigned mentors, and connections to a range of services and supports. But we struggled to meet the full range of students’ needs while also satisfying the many requirements of a Missouri high school diploma. Eventually, that tension led us to close the school and go public with our belief that graduating high school was not the same as being ready for college, work, and adult life.
For the past decade, I have worked with national, state, and local leaders to pursue this same question, and put findings into action. For instance, I co-led The Readiness Project, which explored the science (and art) of youth readiness. It was funded by the Ford Foundation, housed at the Forum for Youth Investment, and focused on looking across youth-serving systems and settings—while considering the science of learning, adolescence, and development—to develop practical and actionable tools for adults who work and live with young people.
Today, I partner with groups and organizations across the US to answer this same question, and to put what they learn into policy and practice.
What inspired you to write Making It: What Today’s Kids Need for Tomorrow’s World?
Early in my transition from local to national work, I was struck by how many conversations happen about education and students, without teachers and young people in the room. This diminishes the richness and accuracy of those conversations, and prevents the people most proximate to the problems, from having information, ideas, and insights they need. I started funneling away the lessons, research, and stories I heard, that I believed would be beneficial for teachers, coaches, counselors, parents, and other professionals working with young people. Making It is my love letter back to the frontlines. It is my attempt to take the research and realizations happening at the national and even global level—across education, workforce development, health and human services—and make them available to very busy professionals and parents.
What are you working on now that is most exciting and inspiring to you?
I am so fortunate! Six months ago, I opened my own consulting shop, First Quarter Strategies, enabling me to only work on things I find exciting and inspiring. It also gives me space and time to continue writing. Here is a sampling of projects I’m working on right now:
- A landscape analysis for the Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions to help them understand how their 36-community Opportunity Youth Network engages in youth justice reform.
- Another landscape analysis of the philanthropic, policy, and practice investments being made across the US that focus on the education success of young people who experience foster care, juvenile justice, and homelessness.
- Advising two gubernatorial teams and several statewide networks on how to prioritize youth learning, well-being and healing, as a part of long-Covid recovery.
- Exploring the concept of “regenerative hospitality” as an inclusive economic development strategy for families and young workers who live in places that rely too heavily on travel and tourism.
- Staffing the economic well-being workgroup of the Youth Transition Funders Group.
- Writing a chapter for an edited volume, Rethinking Work, called “Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce for a 70-Year Career”
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