Our Projects


Translating Knowledge to Inform Program Development


The Challenge

The KA‘I Program at ‘Iolani School offers low-income students a comprehensive, long-term program that provides educational opportunities, critical life skills, and individualized support from middle school through post-secondary education. The program fosters a culture of achievement that supports students to graduate from high school, become leaders within their school community, pursue pathways of success and higher education in an area of personal passion, and contribute toward the betterment of their local community. In 2014, when the program was still developing, KA‘I leadership sought to learn how to enhance the program to better support students – often first generation high school graduates – as they navigate and transition into post-secondary options, whether college, work or vocational training.

The Learning Agenda Approach

KA‘I leadership wanted to learn as much as possible about the true challenges, large and small, that low-income students face as they undertake college, trades and other post-secondary ventures. Why do so many low-income high school graduates drop out of college? How many complete college, and what makes the difference? The Learning Agenda designed a research approach, drawing from literature, leaders in the field, programs throughout the U.S., and KA‘I’s own experience, to respond to three key questions that would inform program development:

  • What are key barriers low-income youth and their families face to access post-secondary education or training?

  • What does the research tell us about messaging post-secondary options and expectations to young people and their families?

  • What programmatic features best support young people and their families in learning about and accessing post-secondary pathways?

TLA’s deep experience in expanded learning and key transition points for youth allowed a streamlined approach to the research. The TLA team was able to quickly tap a wide body of education and youth development research, digging into best practices, research and policy papers, longitudinal studies and published frameworks. TLA examined work from leading relevant sources such as the Big Picture Learning Company, Harvard Family Research Project, Jobs for the Future and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. TLA also identified and interviewed field experts engaged in supporting post-secondary transitions and success and analyzed results alongside research findings.

The Results

TLA’s research validated KA‘I’s decision to commit to post-secondary support for their students, and gave leadership the evidence – and confidence – necessary to make a compelling case for support from funders and the community. TLA helped KA‘I leadership translate and apply findings to enhance existing programming and develop new strategies that would support post-secondary access and persistence. The research laid out challenges that low-income students face as they embark on college and other life endeavors following high school, and provided the basis for many practices incorporated in the KA‘I program, including the hiring of a post-secondary counselor who creates highly individualized post-high school plans for KA‘I students.

In Their Own Words

“The Learning Agenda team skillfully addressed our programmatic needs by uncovering evidence to help us formulate our post-secondary program and ultimately secure funding to support it. In addition to higher-level data to make the case, TLA teased out easy-to-tackle, yet critical, things that really make a difference in the personalized support we provide our students after high school.”

Allison Blankenship
Director of the KA‘I Program, ‘Iolani School