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Language matters: demystifying jargon we use in our work

by Julia Hughes, Senior Director of Development and Communication

I recently attended a training course on simplifying communication. Central to the idea of “simplification” is the inclusion of others. After all, if people don’t understand what you’re trying to communicate, you’ve missed the entire point.

It got me thinking about “jargon.” Unfortunately, we use jargon in the world of nonprofits and education – using industry-specific terms that others may not understand. We thought we’d take time in today’s blog to unpack some of our favorite jargon – in our own words and our own experiences.

Cartoon by Bradford Veley

Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) – This framework allows us to provide the right students with the right support. Because not all students can get everything they need with full classroom instruction (i.e. Tier 1 students), MTSS allows us to cater the right interventions based on student needs. It involves ongoing assessment to check and re-check for understanding.

Much of CYC’s work focuses on “Tier 2” students – i.e. students who need additional support outside of the classroom but aren’t receiving more intensive services from the school. Tier 2 support can be individualized or small-group tutoring and is meant to supplement what is already being taught.

Whole Child Approach – We know that students are more than their grades and attendance.

  • We understand it is hard to prioritize attendance when you’re sleeping on a neighbor’s couch.
  • We hear it is hard to arrive at school on time when you must get your younger siblings to school first.
  • We see when a student doesn’t feel they belong, they try to become invisible and small.  

At the center of this approach for CYC is relationship building. We are committed to cultivating strong relationships with our students where they have the opportunity to share who they are outside the classroom: what is important to them, what brings them joy, and what they are struggling with.

40 Code – CYC partners with both Denver Public Schools and Englewood Schools to manage their “40 code lists.” 40 is an exit code used within school districts and indicates that a student has stopped attending school and the school has withdrawn them.

It can be challenging for schools to assign these codes. But by assigning a 40 code, CYC can get to work with outreach. We can start reaching out to young people and their families to understand why school wasn’t working. Together, we can identify any challenges and provide different options that often include more flexibility, smaller classes, and a fresh start.

Imposter Syndrome

CYC provides extensive training to 200+ AmeriCorps members each year on the idea of “imposter syndrome.” When people doubt their abilities in spite of strong performance, they can feel like a fake. If an AmeriCorps member struggled when they were in school and is now coaching other students on attendance and grades, they can feel phony. They may be younger or less educated than the teachers and administrators in the building, which further enhances this feeling.

Additionally, if the AmeriCorps member has identities that have been historically oppressed (i.e. Black, Indigenous, Transgender, Queer, etc.), those feelings of inadequacy can be exacerbated.

Combatting imposter syndrome is all about building confidence and reminding oneself that you belong, which is something that our AmeriCorps members support their students with too.

Meeting or exceeding target growth rate – All three of CYC’s nationally replicated AmeriCorps programs (Early Learning Corps, Reading Corps, and Math Corps) measure outcomes against target growth rate. Students who are behind in literacy and math skills need to EXCEED their target growth rate (based on grade level criteria at the beginning, middle and end of the year) in order to catch up academically with peers.

Opportunity Youth – Our partners at the Aspen Institute define this term as “young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market.” As the convener of the Denver Opportunity Youth Initiative, CYC is committed to partnering with opportunity youth to create places of belonging and purpose in education and employment. Our youth possess incredible skills and creativity, and they deserve to engage with systems to nurture their strengths.

Thank you for partnering with us to demystify jargon! We hope that by calling others in with inclusive language, we can rally our community and better support our students.

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