Program Summary: Civicorps is a school district approved high school diploma and job training program for youth, including those with disabilities, ages 18-26. Students begin the program in the Academy, focusing on the academic coursework to earn their high school diploma. Students enter the program with varying levels of academic preparedness, so all students are given support and resources to be able complete their coursework at their own pace. After completing their academic coursework, participants transition to the Job Training Program. Through Civicorps’ Environmental Management Social Enterprise, participants work with 11 public agencies on environmental enhancement and mitigation projects, enabling them to gain valuable work skills, soft skills, and industry-recognized tool certifications while earning an income. As students graduate from the program, they are supported by the Civicorps program throughout their first year in getting connected to the workforce and postsecondary education and training. The Civicorps Pathways Coordinator connects graduating students to internships, pre-apprenticeships, or apprenticeships that align with their career goals and provides support as they are transitioning out of the Civicorps program. The Civicorps College Counselor helps students connect with postsecondary institutions that will enable them to achieve their goals.

Program Structure/Design: Civicorps is a high school diploma and job training program for youth ages 18-26 who have dropped out of high school and are not connected to the workforce. The program is divided into two components, the Academy and the Job Training Program. Civicorps has been recognized by the district as a charter school allowing students to earn a high school diploma rather than an alternative certification. Charter status also allows Civicorps to have access to student records and any resources from the school district that may be valuable. During the Academy, students attend class for 30 hours per week, in which time they develop an academic portfolio to showcase their work to meet the requirements necessary for graduation. By developing a portfolio instead of focusing on recovering credits, students are able to all start at the same level, progress at their own pace, and have a document to showcase their skills at the end. Civicorps’ curriculum is college preparatory; writing is integrated throughout all subjects and aligns with the amount of writing expected of a college freshman. In addition, students take a final math course that is college level. By focusing on college preparatory academics, Civicorps encourages all of its students to see college as an option for them, be prepared for college without needing to take any remedial courses, and be able to successfully complete the college program that aligns with their career goals.

After completing the Academy, students transition to the Job Training Program during which they work 32 hours per week earning minimum wage for Civicorps’ Environmental Management (EM) Social Enterprise. In the EM Social Enterprise, students work with public agency sponsors to maintain trails, clear waterways, and reduce the wildfire fuel load of surrounding natural areas. As its own business with its own contracts with individuals and businesses in the community, the EM Social Enterprise is able to provide students with real work experience, completing projects for real clients. While students are engaging in this job training, students gain awards in attendance and experience as well as industry-recognized tool certifications.
The Civicorps program continues to provide support once students graduate through Pathways Counselors and College Counselors that help them transition to work and college. Pathways Counselors connect young people to an internship, pre-apprenticeship, or apprenticeship in the community with priority placed on paid experiences. The counselor provides support both to students and employers to ensure that skills are developed and to provide support for any needs that may arise. The College Counselor assists students in applying to college and financial aid and in navigating the changes that arise in entering college.

States of Operation: California
Youth Targeted: Disconnected youth ages 18-26 who do not have a high school diploma
ODEP Funded: No
Profile Year: 2018


School-Based Preparatory Experiences

High School Diploma and College Preparation: The Civicorps program was designed for those students who were unable to finish high school in a traditional setting. Students in the program range in age from 18 to 26 and come with a variety of academic preparation. Some students are at an eighth-grade level academically while others can pass their academic exit exams when they begin the program. Some have been out of school for ten years while others may have only been out for one. Civicorps starts all students on the same twelfth-grade level and then uses academic coaches, tutors, and blended learning to provide the support needed to complete the academic coursework necessary to earn a high school diploma. Students are able to finish the Academy portion at their own pace, ranging from 9 to 15 weeks depending on their needs, and receive support and coaching from Civicorps support staff and teachers.

Civicorps has written the Academy curriculum of the program in a way that prepares all of its students for college. With the high reading and writing expectations of college, Civicorps has increased the writing requirements of all of its courses and, with the development of their final portfolio, helps students gain writing skills in the supportive environment of Civicorps. In addition, all students finish their math coursework in a college level math course. Many students enter college needing to take remedial math courses which are an extra expense and do not count towards their degree. By having all students take college math before graduation and by increasing the writing preparation of their students, Civicorps hopes to help students see college as a viable option for themselves and prepare students to enter college taking credit-bearing courses.

Supports From and By Highly Qualified Staff: The Civicorps program employs twice as many support staff as teachers and credits this approach as vital to the success of the program. In addition to the teachers, the program staff also includes counselors, social workers, and resource personnel. Civicorps recognizes that many of its students have experienced some form of trauma and will continue to face challenges while in the program. All the students in the program live in poverty, all are persons of color, half have been involved with the criminal justice system, about twenty percent were in the foster care system, and half experience homelessness. With a deep understanding of their student population, all staff are trained in trauma-informed care and in how to connect students to the supports available in the program, such as housing assistance programs and mental health services. Civicorps has designed its program to create a supportive culture that reduces the stigma of counseling and encourages students to seek help. Some of this is credited to the small size of the program which helps staff to be able to build the kind of strong relationships with the students to tell if something is not right, but also through addressing the importance of utilizing the resources available in the program from day one at orientation. All students meet the counselors and learn about the various supports available at Civicorps. Each student is paired with an advisor with whom they are able to talk through what they are experiencing and who can then connect them to additional resources if necessary. By creating this highly supportive and trauma-informed environment, students are able to develop skills necessary to be successful in the program and also in their future education and careers.

Access to Specific and Individual Learning Accommodations: Individualized support is one of the components of the Civicorps program that has been so crucial to its success. Civicorps understands that those who it is serving are the students who were not successful in their traditional high school and that this may be for a multitude of reasons. As a recognized charter school by the district, Civicorps is provided with each student’s school records, including any IEPs and 504 plans, and has access to supports provided by the school district. Additionally, by pairing students with a one-on-one advisor and having academic coaches and support in the classroom, staff are able to work with students individually to develop a structure that works for them. Some accommodations may have been addressed by the school system and may be addressed in documentation, but sometimes a needed accommodation may have been missed. By providing individualized support, Civicorps staff are able to help each individual student to address the challenges that they are facing in the academic coursework and then provide the support needed to make the appropriate individual accommodations.

Supported by Highly Qualified Transitional Support Staff: Civicorps has learned through its work that transition times are some of the most difficult for their students and has used this knowledge to build in extra support for every transitional period, both within the program and in their transition out using a trauma-informed lens. In preparation for the transition to Job Training, students take their first visit to the Civicorps jobsite when they are in their Civicorps orientation. While in the Academy, students participate in work readiness experiences and preparation experiences to ease some of the apprehension about transitioning to Job Training. While in Job Training, students still have access to their advisor and the same counselors that they have been working with to provide a consistency of support that can help them through this change and any challenges they are facing.

As students approach graduation, they work with the College and Career Pathways Counselors to develop a plan after graduation. As with all program transitions, preparation for college begins at orientation for students. Civicorps wants all of its students to graduate knowing that college is a real option for them. In this way, the Academy is designed to be college preparatory and each student works with a College counselor that assists them in the preparation steps leading up to graduation and provides support once they enter postsecondary education. College Counselors assist students with the application process, financial aid, and identifying the right pathway for the career they are looking for. Once students enter college, Civicorps College Counselors continue to stay in contact and provide support to help students in their transition, gradually stepping away over time. In doing so, College Counselors are able to help graduates learn to navigate the college setting and find the help that they need on their campus.

In addition to having College Counselors, Civicorps’ Pathways Counselors place students in internships, pre-apprenticeships, or apprenticeships with local business partners. These partnerships cover a wide range of industries from the Oakland Housing Authority, Schnitzer Steel, Waste Management, St. Mary’s Center, a dog care clinic, and a childcare clinic. Civicorps ensures that students are paid or receive a stipend to cover living experiences while pursuing these opportunities. Interns and employers are provided up to twenty hours of support per week from Civicorps staff in order to make sure that students are building professional skills and to troubleshoot any issues that may arise. By having both College Counselors and Career Pathways Counselors, Civicorps is able to work with their students and graduates individually to develop a plan that aligns with their career goals.

Career Preparation and Work-based Learning

Career Exploration: While in Civicorps, students participate in many different activities to help them develop a plan for what kind of career they would like to pursue. While all students work in Civicorps’ Environmental Management Social Enterprise, they also use their Friday seminar time to explore other career options. Students and staff travel to various work sites that relate to Friday seminar topics. Seminar topics include things such as carpentry, construction (including computer-driven construction), mural painting, Shakespeare, and computer programming. All topics are viewed through a career exploration lens as staff try to help students connect with their interests to inform their future choices. One trip that every class takes is to Charles Schwab to see an office environment and what it may be like to work in that type of field. These learning opportunities are then used when the students are discussing their interests with the Career Pathways Counselors at the end of the program to connect students with internships, pre-apprenticeships, or apprenticeships that align with their interests.

Career Preparation and Practice: Career preparation is integrated in all that Civicorps does, but it can be specifically found in Friday seminars and in the students’ work at the Social Enterprise. In Friday seminars, work readiness topics are discussed including soft skills, workplace attire for different agencies, conflict resolution, and requesting accommodations in the workplace. Once students enter the Job Training Program, they are able to put all their career readiness skills into practice through real work experiences with real clients. One of the most unique things about Civicorps’ EM Social Enterprise is its contracts with 11 public agency partners. Students gain pivotal job experience working with real clients in a real business and getting paid for their work while in the supportive environment of Civicorps with counselors and staff available to help when needs arise. Throughout the Job Training Program, students earn attendance and performance awards and industry-recognized tool certifications that they can include in their resume to be more competitive as they look for work. Students also include positive evaluations from the Job Training Program in their portfolios in order to graduate. By incorporating career preparation along the length of the program and including real work experience with real clients, students in Civicorps gain vital career preparation experience and are equipped to enter the workforce upon graduation.
In addition to the EM Social Enterprise that all students participate in, Civicorps also has the Recycling Social Enterprise that prepares students to enter teamster truck driving apprenticeships. The Recycling Social Enterprise is not a part of Civicorps’ charter school but a program that interested students are able to join after graduation. It is also open to other young adults in the community who are interested in the training. Civicorps has a partnership with the city garbage franchise to provide recycling services to area businesses. This pre-apprenticeship program lasts for 2-4 years, and young adults earn their Class B driver’s license. Upon completion, participants are able to enter union apprenticeships with Waste Management and, after two years, join Teamster Truck Driving Jobs.

Youth Development and Leadership

Opportunities to Exercise Leadership and Build Self-Esteem: Students in the Civicorps program are given multiple opportunities to develop leadership skills both in informal ways and in structured leadership roles built into the program. Some of these informal opportunities include peer tutoring and teacher assistant opportunities in the classroom and peer training and crew leader training opportunities while in job training. Civicorps has three avenues for students to engage in structured leadership roles: crew leader, peer appeal panel member, and community meeting master of ceremony.

Each of these leadership opportunities have different application processes and levels of commitment. They are all open to anyone who wishes to complete the required training and meet the expectations of the position. To be a crew leader in the job training program, students submit a resume and cover letter and are then asked to complete an interview. They participate in a month-long training that involves workshops on leadership and tool certifications. Once completed, students are eligible to become crew leaders and will be assigned to a specific crew. In their role, crew leaders support the staff supervisor in project completion, meeting with staff, and completing the required paperwork.

Members of the Peer Appeal Panel support the restorative justice work of Civicorps in reviewing student appeals of a disciplinary procedure. Anyone is able to participate after completing a five-hour training. Members of the panel look over the written appeal, review supporting documents, and make a decision based on restorative justice principles and Civicorps policies.

Every week, Civicorps holds weekly community meetings with all of the students in the program. Students who wish to can volunteer to lead the hour-long meeting which includes guest speakers, peer recognition, and student presentations.

Training in Self-Advocacy: Throughout the program, students engage in conversations that prepare them to advocate for themselves once they graduate. These conversations are integrated in all components of the program to prepare all students to advocate for themselves after graduation. Students in special education receive more targeted support to their individual needs by the Resource Specialist, but all students engage in self-advocacy development throughout their time in Civicorps. Self-advocacy skills development begins at orientation with conversations about asking for personal support, such as transportation and housing support. As students enter the classroom, self-advocacy development involves conversations about academic support and the manner in which they communicate with their peers for the time and space that they need. While in the job training program, students are guided and encouraged to use their voice in their crews, to complete certification opportunities, and to promote to positions of greater responsibility. By incorporating self-advocacy skills into every part of the program, all students develop skills to prepare them for life after Civicorps.

Connecting Activities

Identifying Barriers to Access: Civicorps has designed its program to address any barriers to completion that its students may be facing. Addressing these barriers begins with the design of the program to include payment for the time that students are in the program. While students are in the Academy, they receive a stipend for their attendance. Once students enter the Job Training Program, they earn minimum wage for their work. Many students enrolled in Civicorps are not able to go without an income while completing school and job training. Some may have children of their own, some are helping to take care of their parents or siblings, or some are living independently. The leaders of Civicorps quickly realized that it was essential for them provide paid job experience for their students.

In addition to needing an income, other barriers that could make it difficult for students to reach completion may include difficulty getting to and from the program, lack of consistent housing, or unexpected expenses. In order to alleviate some of these barriers, Civicorps provides bus passes for its students and connections to housing and food support. Knowing that not all expenses are scheduled and that these unexpected expenses could lead a student to drop out of the program, Civicorps has established an emergency fund to help their students when unexpected expenses arise.

In Friday seminars, Civicorps connects students to services in the community that they may not have accessed before, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. Civicorps staff realized that many of its students had never gotten their driver’s licenses even though they were all old enough. Civicorps then decided to integrate driver’s education into their Friday seminar. Students work together to study for the driver’s test and, when they are ready, take a trip to the DMV together to get their licenses. By supporting their students in these steps to independence, they are also helping them to overcome barriers to becoming an independent adult.

Financial Planning and Management: As Civicorps students are developing skills to prepare them for the workforce and earning an income, it is important for them to also develop skills in financial management and planning. This is again something that Civicorps utilizes their Friday time for. One of the topics covered in the Friday seminars is financial capability. Students spend time working through bill expectations and budgets. Students also work with staff to think about what kind of lifestyle they would like and what kind of income they can expect from different job options.

Post-Program Supports: The Civicorps program does not end with graduation; rather, students stay connected up to a year after the program ends. Civicorps Pathways Counselors connect graduating students with internships, pre-apprenticeships, and apprenticeships in the community and then provide up to 20 hours a week of support to students and employers to ensure that things are going smoothly. Civicorps College Counselors help connect students to college by helping them with the application and financial aid process. Once they enter college, counselors continue to provide coaching and support through the process. All post-program support provided is dependent on the graduate’s individual needs and is gradually phased out over time.


Civicorps has a Board of Directors made up of fifteen individuals committed to the success of the program. In addition to the Board of Directors, Civicorps’ Senior Management Team is made up of the Executive Director, Deputy Director for Programs, Chief Financial Officer (who also oversees the Recycling Training Program), Director of Development and Communications, and Head of School.

Financing for the Civicorps program comes from multiple sources with 50% of its revenue coming from its social enterprises, 12% from state funding as a charter school, 20% from donations from foundations and private donors, and 20% from grants, including Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and private foundation grants that support workforce development.

The number of students in each Civicorps class can vary at any given time depending on the economy of the community and the availability of the population it serves to find work. In 2017, 46 students graduated from Civicorps with their high school diploma. The student body in 2017 was 63% African American, 25% Latino, 8% Asian, and 4% Mixed Race, White, or Other. Thirty-five percent of students were female, 64% were male, and 1% were transgender. Thirty-eight percent of the student body was experiencing homelessness while in the program. Fifty-five percent were justice-involved, 31% were parents of young children, and 19% were former foster youth. At any given time, about 40% of students in Civicorps have a disability with a wide range of disabilities represented including auditory and visual processing deficits, anxiety, and developmental disabilities.


Data and/or Third Party Documentation: Civicorps’ 2016/2017 cohort had a high school graduation rate of 72%. In addition, 71% of 2015-2016 graduates were enrolled in college and/or employed one year after graduation. In September of 2017, a three-year study of Civicorps students who had been in the foster care system was released. The study found that foster youth progressed through the program at the same rate as non-foster youth despite facing more barriers, such as being more likely to have children, to have been the victim of violence, to have previously been incarcerated, and to have a lower income. Foster youth and non-foster youth who participated in Civicorps both had a graduation rate of 72% compared to a national graduation rate for foster youth of 50%. The study was completed by Harder + Co Community Research and funded by the Walter S. Johnson Foundation.

Civicorps’ Recycling Social Enterprise was recognized as a Finalist for Mutual of America’s 2017 Community Partnership Award. In addition, Four of Civicorps’ youth participants have been recognized by the National Corps Network as National Corps Members of the Year over the last six years.

Organization Name: Civicorps
Program Name:
Street Address: 101 Myrtle St.
City: Oakland
State: California

Contact Person: Alan Lessik
Contact Title: Executive Director
Contact Email: