Rossana G. Emmanuelli, PTS facilitator at National Talent Academy in Bayamon, delivers a PTS lesson on preparing resumes and writing cover letters.

Puerto Rico, my place of birth, is known for its colorful streets, rich traditions, natural wonders, flavorful food, and rhythmic music. Those of us who no longer live on the island still wear our culture proudly around the world, sometimes chanting "Yo soy Boricua, pa'que tu lo sepas” which translates to, “I am Puerto Rican, just so you know!”

On the other hand, Puerto Rico is also known for its long history of natural disasters, political strife, and poverty. In fact, as lead on IYF's Do Good Puerto Rico initiative, I know only too well that Puerto Rico’s poverty levels have not made significant improvement in 10 years. Alarmingly, 58.3 percent of children in Puerto Rico live in poverty, and 12 percent of the island’s young people ages 16 to 19 are not in school and not working. Of those who are in school, many are at risk of dropping out and those who do drop out are more likely to have poorer health outcomes and less access to economic opportunities.

Using nontraditional pedagogical approaches such as career-themed instruction, project-based learning, and socio-emotional learning, alternative schools are reaching student populations who aren’t thriving in traditional school settings. 

Too often, the public school system doesn’t adequately consider that young people each have unique experiences that can impact their learning style, ability to forge healthy relationships, and opportunities to be successful. Consequently, in 2005, the Department of Education established alternative schools in Puerto Rico to re-introduce students whose needs weren't being met by traditional education. Using nontraditional pedagogical approaches such as career-themed instruction, project-based learning, and socio-emotional learning, alternative schools are reaching student populations who aren’t thriving in traditional school settings due to factors including different learning abilities, behavioral issues, and trouble with the justice system.

At IYF, we believe alternative schools can serve as powerful institutions for social and educational inclusion. Given my personal connection with Puerto Rico, and my background in youth development, I was excited to lead the Do Good PR program which brings IYF's proven life skills curriculum, Passport to Success® (PTS), to local alternative high schools on the island.

Here's how it worked.

IYF partnered with a local, youth-serving nonprofit called One Stop Career Center of Puerto Rico. One Stop case managers who were trained as PTS facilitators delivered daily PTS lessons in six alternative high schools to 574 young people ages 13 to 19. The lessons cover topics like conflict resolution, goal setting, communication, and effective strategies and habits for finding and maintaining employment.

Seventy percent of respondents felt that the Do Good program helped them get into or stay in school. Furthermore, the percentage of young people that felt that they had the personal and life skills to succeed in their education, business, or career nearly doubled after program implementation from 34 to 60 percent. 

At the end of the program, we conducted a survey to measure program impact. Seventy percent of respondents felt that the Do Good program helped them get into or stay in school. Furthermore, the percentage of young people that felt that they had the personal and life skills to succeed in their education, business, or career nearly doubled after program implementation from 34 to 60 percent.

“[Passport to Success] taught me a lot,” explains 16-year-old Keitlin, a student from the National Talent Academy in Arecibo. “It has motivated me to be better and it has helped me to keep relationships with friends, family, boyfriend, etc. It has helped me have more empathy and to listen to others. It has helped me change bad habits, think before I act, analyze the situation, and find alternatives.”

As we’re seeing through the Do Good initiative, Keitlin and her peers are demonstrating remarkable resilience and trying to maintain positive outlooks. Currently, Keitlin works at a food truck where she provides customer service, prepares meals, and runs the cash register. She says she really likes the job and wants to continue working for a while after she graduates. Eventually, she wants to earn a bachelor’s degree, buy a car, and one day own a home.

Rodan + Fields approved a three-month extension to provide follow-up and individualized coaching to approximately 350 program graduates ... This additional program component is critical because it supports the young program participants to consciously draw connections and apply specific PTS lessons to their personal, professional, and career goals. 

While this is good news, there is still work to be done to help these young people realize the bright and productive futures they deserve. Although the original implementation period of the Do Good Puerto Rico project ended in December 2021, our funding partner Rodan + Fields approved a three-month extension to provide follow-up and individualized coaching to approximately 350 program graduates consisting of school site visits, phone calls, college and employment workshops, and referrals to other services such as legal and mental health counseling and support.

This additional program component is critical because it supports young program participants to consciously draw connections and apply specific PTS lessons to their personal, professional, and career goals—even as they graduate and transition out of school.

Edmari Del Valle is IYF's U.S. Workforce Development Program Manager.