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NPL Celebrates 10 Years of Changing Lives in Nashville with NAZA

October 6, 2020

NAZA Team is Reimagining the Way Youth Lead and Learn in the Next Decade

How do we measure the difference that 10 years makes?

Some observe shifts in the economy and the job market. Others look at marriages, births, and other major milestones in life.

For the team members of the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), housed in Nashville Public Library (NPL), the measure of a decade is clear — a shot at a better future for thousands of Nashville’s youth.

“When you let young people dream, they will have dreams. When you let them speak up, they will have a voice. When you engage them and give them roles, they will make good choices. When you empower them, they will seek for opportunities. When you encourage them, they will soar. And when you see who they are and what they have, they will be motivated. This is how NAZA approaches youth development,” said Anna Harutyunyan, NAZA’s Chief Executive.

On September 30, the team at NAZA and NPL hosted a virtual event to celebrate 10 years of increasing equitable access to afterschool and summer learning experiences that help Nashville youth thrive and develop to their full potential.

And there’s plenty to celebrate.

A Decade of Making a Difference

NAZA was founded in 2010 by then-Nashville mayor Karl Dean to tackle the severe lack of afterschool and summer learning opportunities for Nashville middle school youth. 

“NAZA came out of a huge need in the city. The biggest gap was high-quality, or any out-of-school programming, for the middle school students,” said Elyse Adler, the Assistant Director for Education and Literacy at NPL.

Young people spend only 20% of their time in school, and many are left unsupervised once school is out until their parents finish their workdays. The remaining 80% of time leaves ample opportunity for students to get involved in crime and other harmful activities. Aside from employment obligations, many Nashville families simply cannot afford quality out-of-school time learning opportunities. Both conditions leave a wide gap that leaves many young people at a severe disadvantage.

NAZA would address the problem in five ways: investing in afterschool and summer programs, strengthening program capacity, convening youth development organizations, advocating for holistic youth development, and empowering youth through new opportunities and initiatives. 

By combining these efforts, NAZA would create opportunities for middle-schoolers to access free, high quality programs that keep them engaged, provide a positive environment, and equip them to pursue their goals.

Flash forward to 2020, and NAZA has made massive strides toward achieving its mission. More than 15,000 youth have participated in NAZA-funded programs. Meanwhile, more than 5,600 youth development professionals have benefited from NAZA’s free professional development and coaching resources. 

And the most important audience — Nashville’s youth — sees the benefits of NAZA’s efforts firsthand:

  • 87% of participants experienced improved social competencies
  • 92% increased their commitment to their learning
  • 90% felt more positive and confident about their identity
  • 91% saw a marked improvement in their positive values

“NAZA has been one of the most exciting initiatives to happen to Nashville Public Library in the history of the library. We are so fortunate for whatever role we have played to move the mission forward,” said Kent Oliver, Director of NPL. “We believe in education. We believe in our students here in Nashville. Anytime we can be part of solving a challenge, we are ready to do so.”

While their accomplishments have already made a huge impact in the lives of many Nashville families, the team at NAZA is just getting started.

A New Vision for Nashville’s Future

For the folks at NAZA, investing in more programs for middle-schoolers isn’t enough. They want to change the way we support, strengthen, and expand learning opportunities for today’s youth.

Moving into the next decade, NAZA and its partners will refine and implement a new framework for youth: Nashville’s Vision for Holistic Youth Development.

“Becoming a successful, thriving individual, and part of society, takes a lot more skills than we imagine. Every community, large and small, should have a vision on how it is supporting its children and youth to reach their full potential in life. Investing in schools and formal education is the bare minimum, but if you want a holistic development which entails learning and practicing broader human skills, then you have to scope what is important for any given person to succeed and then invest in that,”  Harutyunyan said. “Evidently, we are entering an era where standardized work skills are gradually transferring to artificial intelligence, and we need to start rebuilding human skills that will let our youth be creative, curious, resilient and able to explore, exist and thrive in environments that are new.”

NAZA collaborated with more than 200 members of the Nashville community, 59% of whom were youth or caregivers to create a citywide Vision of Holistic Youth Development to improve the way that we engage young people in learning.

Based on the assumptions that learning happens all the time; that learning is to help youth thrive in life; and that learning is a social, emotional, and cognitive process, the Vision defines 12 individual and 4 community growth practices that are essential for youth to thrive in education, work, and life. It also analyzes how these skills/practices can be implemented in afterschool and summer programs.

The Vision will make up the core of NAZA’s next five-year strategy. NAZA will provide resources and training for today’s youth development professionals to improve and expand their programs’ positive results in participating youth. 

Want to get learn more or get involved? Please join us for Transform Learning, Transform Community: Launching Nashville's Vision for Holistic Youth Development. Learn more and register here.

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Ed Brown

Ed's a proud member of NPL's Marketing and Communications team. Some of his favorite books include Dracula, Once an EagleNeuromancerStarship TroopersThe Black CompanyBerserkBlade of the ImmortalBlame! and Vampire Hunter D. When not at the Library, you'll find him spending time with his wife and son, doing interval training, reading, or waiting for the next FromSoftware game.