Category Archives: Global Youth

Why The American Public School System Keeps Failing Our Youth

President Bush signing the No Child Left Behin...

Former President GW Bush with members of Congress at the signing of 'No Child Left Behind' Act Image via Wikipedia

In 2007, 17 of the nation’s 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent, with a consistent 1.2 million dropouts every year.  Meanwhile, twenty-five percent of the United States population is functionally illiterate, unable to consult a dictionary, to read signs or follow basic written directions.  Overall, the United States is suffering from a high school dropout rate of about 30 percent each year.  For a nation so esteemed for its multifaceted education provided for all, these rates are shameful.  If there indeed exist such great barriers for success in school, how is it that the United States still claims equality of opportunity?  Spend a day in most any inner-city high school, and you will find the plight of public schools has reached crisis proportions.  New York City Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, agrees: the public education crisis has become the “greatest domestic issue” Americans face today.

Where public schools suffer, the middle and upper class have the option of sending their children to privately-funded institutions, any one of a variety of boarding schools, charters, academies, prep schools, specialized schools for math and science or Waldorf schools.  These are the schools that have inundated the suburbs outside the largest U.S. cities, so much so that private affluence now goes hand-in-hand with public squalor in the school system.  While private schools have the freedom to develop unique curricula, support their personnel financially, and provide the resources that facilitate an orderly learning environment, public schools are restricted to the whims of government policy decisions, to one central voice, to No Child Left Behind.

Public schools today are subject to a system of zero-tolerance policies, which entails increased suspensions, expulsions and referrals to juvenile justice system, coupled with an “ordering regime”, or standardized one-size-fits-all school policies.  Zero-tolerance is applied to any and all deviant acts at school, lending itself to increased police intervention in the school environment and punishment of children (no matter their psychological or mental functioning level) by mandated sanctions.  In admitting youth to the juvenile justice system for very minor offenses, students miss school work, develop distrust of teachers and administrators, suffer punishments of probation, expulsion and the corresponding emotional trauma, and finally carry the delinquent stigma throughout their school career.  Overwhelmingly, these are the students who eventually drop out, commit crimes and are incarcerated.

Philadelphia provides a perfect case study in inner city education, expelling students at a rate of three hundred per day.  On average, students are about four years behind in reading level in Philadelphia.  Almost half of students drop out between ninth and tenth grade, joining the ever-growing group of “disconnected youth”, youth ages 16-24, who are neither in school nor officially employed.
What has the No Child Left Behind Act, implemented by the Bush administration in 2002, done to make reforms?  Under the act, schools must meet “adequate yearly progress”, which cannot be met if a single student in the school fails federal exams that are given on top of mandatory state exams.  Pressure to meet such standards is applied with the threat of “take over” by the government or complete loss of funding.  In fact, pressure runs so high that public schools are inclined to suspend or expel students who are at risk of failing, in order to ensure that the school meets the requirements.

In fact, Villanova is host to a variety of campus organizations that work with inner-city Philadelphia public school programs.  Villanova students experience similar frustrations about the egregious conditions, the barriers to learning, and the limitations of the No Child Left Behind curricula, which they are forced to tutor.  Nearly every one of these students will admit that the likelihood that his or her “little”, “buddy” or student will never see graduation day is almost certain.  Volunteer Gail Sondermeyer explains the problem: “kids had homework, but they also had these big packets for No Child Left Behind testing…they never really had the chance to do their homework for class, because teachers insisted that the packets always came first.”
Sondermeyer points to a common phenomenon occurring in public schools across the nation, in which teachers are forced to “teach to the test”, and in turn, experience a lessened ability to develop interesting, engaging curricula, due to restrictions and demands to meet for annual tests.  In Philadelphia, students spend an average of three weeks taking these federal exams, while schools are forced to spend excessive administrative funds on test coordinators and proctors.  How much of this spending does the government actually cover?  Less than half.  Public schools, already suffering from financial disability are forced to dig even deeper in their pockets to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind, a program which has not yet proven effective.

The one-size-fits-all approach to standardization encourages education through rote memorization and focuses on testing instead of investing.  In fact, approaches to teaching in public schools have begun to mirror the commonly used, rigorous approaches of penal institutions and even the military.  Teachers, of course, bear the burden of such implementation, and have little room for creativity.  The effects of such methods on teacher burnout are telling: half the teachers hired in inner-city public schools quit within their first five years.  In turn, the most inexperienced teachers are left to deal with the most difficult educational challenges and the most serious problem students.  These are the students who suffer from unbending educational policies, who attempt to learn in an environment where meeting a standard takes precedence over engaging students in the learning process, and where resources are so limited that even reading is made nearly impossible.  Indeed, in 2006, all 50 states failed to meet the benchmark for proficiency.  What is the trajectory for No Child Left Behind?  Are we looking at the beginnings of an end for the entire United States public school system?

Where resources are depleted and attention to school problems diminish annually, the public schools of the inner cities of the United States face a serious dilemma.  Where fewer students have the opportunity to succeed, and more leave high school with an inadequate education, the future generations of the United States will suffer severely from the current public school crisis.  The only promise of our current policies is a growing gap in educational attainment, between public turmoil and private affluence, in which only the privileged will have the opportunity to succeed in school.

 

By
Amy Richards
Re:LIFE Inc Writer

 

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Filed under Education, Entrepreneurship, Global Youth, Minority Issues, Re:LIFE Inc, ReLIFE, Youth, Youth Development, Youth Empowerment

Criminal Justice Inequality in America: The Destruction of the African American Male

Crime has fallen, but incarcerations across the country still soar, making imprisonment for young African American men a fact of life.  As Harvard Sociologist Bruce Western suggests, societal inequalities generally seem to us natural, legitimate or fixed.  Much of the inequality relies on our society’s perception of young African American male high school dropouts as a problematic societal sub-group.  This perception is perhaps the primary obstacle in addressing inequality in the United States: our complacency with it.
Western suggests that we are living in an era of mass imprisonment that has transformed a generation of young black men who make up the mainstay of the permanently disadvantaged population in American society.  The effect of imprisonment on social and economic inequality demands our immediate attention.
Only 0.1% of the population in Western Europe is incarcerated.  In the U.S., about 700 per 100,000 people are in jail, an entire order of magnitude greater than that of Europe’s population.  From the 1920’s through most of 20th century, imprisonment in the U.S. was relatively stable, and comparable Western Europe’s rates today.  However, from the mid-70’s on, the penal system grew stricter and the threshold for imprisonment was lowered: about 7 million people have since been brought under police supervision.
As large as these figures are, the volume of prisoners is not the most telling statistic.  Instead, we must look more closely incarceration rates for particular sub-groups that include race and educational background.  In the past decade, one third of all young black men who were also high school dropouts, were behind bars, a statistic hugely inconsistent with the rest of society.  In 1999, 41 percent of all black male high school dropouts aged 22-30 were in prison or jail.  In fact, prison time is a more common transition stage for young black males today than college.  Nothing distinguishes African Americans from whites like the difference in rates of incarceration (about 8 to 1).

Prison confers an enduring status that causes diminished opportunities for those who are previously incarcerated.  One effect of the overwhelming rate of incarceration on society is increased inequality of opportunities for prisoners when they leave, both in pay and employment in general.  Incarceration may reduce human capital (lost work experience, diminished skills), erode social ties/relationships to legitimate employment and confer a stigma that repels employers (civil disabilities too).  Ex-prisoners are then subject to high risk of unemployment, little prospect for wage growth, day labor, few to no benefits and decreased job security.  The stigma with which a convict is forced to live then subjects him to subsistence “at the margins of the labor market… precarious employment in low-wage jobs”.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is the effect that the incarcerated males have on the next generation, on their children, who grow up without father figures, while their fathers wait in jail.  One third of African American youth born in 1990, have experienced the absence of a father who was incarcerated.  Imprisonment has therefore become a normal event for young black men with little schooling.  By sharpening the lines of social exclusion, mass imprisonment has reduced the extent of American citizenship and produced a profound transformation of American race relations in the post-Civil Rights period.  Through its effects on economic status and mobility (and families too), mass incarceration has become self-sustaining.

An entire group of our population has become entrenched in a cycle of poverty and diminished life opportunities at the hands of the penal system.  By maintaining this unforgiving criminal justice system, we effectively perpetuate the marginalized status of an entire population of young black men, a group of men who would otherwise have the chance to act as role models and breadwinners for families and communities.  By diminishing ex-prisoners’ life opportunities, society maintains an underclass that is unable to gain a foothold through a fair paying job, that would allow them to begin on a prosocial life path.  The United States has, in effect, decided that this group does not deserve access to jobs or the other legitimate means by which they might reenter mainstream society.

While the criminal justice system is founded on the ideal of safety and security, it has a latent function as well.  It acts as a means of social control that generates inequality, while essentially doing away with what many view as a potentially problematic group of idle young, African American males.  When such a huge disparity exists between the actual trends in crime and the soaring incarceration rates, it is obvious that the criminal justice system no longer acts solely in the name of public safety.

*Statistics in this article are based on a 2009 lecture given by Harvard Sociologist Bruce Western at Villanova University

 
By
Amy Richards, BA
Re:LIFE Inc Blogger

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Filed under Global Youth, Minority Issues, Re:LIFE Inc, ReLIFE, Youth, Youth Development, Youth Empowerment

Improving Youth Academic Performance through Sports

People are now beginning to recognize the importance of mental attributes such as confidence, composure, focus, and motivation in the performance of athletes. The possession of these qualities is required for the “mental toughness” necessary for sports aptitude. As a result, finding ways to enhance athletic performance and the acquisition of these traits has become an essential and now emerging career track. Within the field of psychology, a branch has been established to deal strictly with the relationship between sports and mental processes— Sport Psychology is the study of the psychological factors that affect participation and performance in sports. Psychological principles such as positive thinking and goal setting can be applied in sports to help athletes perform better and be well prepared for competition. The participation of youths in sports, therefore, is highly recommended because it builds critical skills they will use on the sports field, in school, and in life.

Athletes which have the qualities of mental toughness have the ability to move on after their mistakes, maintain confidence and composure in the face of adversity, and focus on what is needed to execute each task successfully. Professionals in the field of Sport Psychology aim to increase athletic performance by reducing the psychological effects of poor performance and instilling the mental skill needed to attain peak performance. This is accomplished through mental training. Mental training is about improving one’s attitude and mental skills while understanding the mental barriers that hinder performance. These barriers include high expectations, perfectionism, fear of failure, and lack of emotional control and focus.

Schools are highly recommended to include sports into their curriculums and mandate physical education because this increases mental strength and also active involvement in one’s school. Thus, participation in sports can improve performance in all areas of school. It has been discovered that youths who engage in physical activity five or more times a week are more likely to perform better in math and science than the rest of their peers; participating in sports in high school is related to improved English and math scores; sports participation is associated with lower high school drop-out rates; high school athletes are more likely to have a positive relationship with their schools; and that high school athletes are more likely to attend college.

For years, researchers have known that there is a connection between youth involvement in school sports and success later in life. Sports psychology is a very practical discipline and its application in school systems is widely encouraged.

Sources:
What is Mental Training
Economists Link Athletics to Success in School, Job Markets
Facts About Youth Sports and Educational Outcomes

by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology

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Filed under Education, Entrepreneurship, Global Youth, Minority Issues, Re:LIFE Inc, Youth, Youth Development, Youth Empowerment

Pathways to Success: Immigrant Youth at High School Part II

Throughout the Pathways to Success research project, participants were asked for suggestions or recommendations that would lead to increased success for immigrant youth in high school. The suggestions are organized by stakeholder group: youth, parents and family, schools, school boards, the provincial educational system and the community. They are the culmination of all the information gathered during the interviews, the focus group meetings, and the community forum.

Youth:

What immigrant youth in high school can do to improve their own success:

  1. Patience and perseverance and most importantly, being unafraid to ask for help. Although the process may take some time and courage, immigrant youth must develop goals and reach out to others for the support they need to accomplish those goals.
  2. Make friends strategically. Immigrant youth should associate with peers who share similar goals and values. They serve as a support group by helping the youth maintain focus and providing motivation when faced with challenges.
  3. Get involved. Immigrant youth should explore the extracurricular activities available in their school. This will help with meeting new people and getting accustomed to the country’s culture.
  4. Maintain Self-confidence. Immigrant youth should believe in their own skills and abilities when faced with challenges. Often overlooked, optimism is an important factor in succeeding in school.
  5. Communicate with parents. Even though families are often stressed themselves, immigrant youth must preserve their connection with their parents. At home, they are their support group.

What native students can do to help immigrant youth:

  1. Being friendly and open-minded. Students should approach the newcomer, involve them as much as possible, and be empathetic about their experiences.

Parents and Family:

What parents and family members can do to get more involved with helping immigrant youth succeed in school:

  1. Get involved: Parents should try to attend parent-teacher conferences regularly, talk to guidance counselors, join the parent council, or volunteer in the school. They must also take steps to inform themselves about their child’s education.
  2. Encourage youths in school. Parents should inquire about how their child is doing in school, take an active interest in their child’s education and pass on to them the value of an education.
  3. Be understanding. The research participants spoke about the difficulty parents have in accepting the changes in their children as a result of living in a new country and experiencing a different culture. Parents should try to be understanding about these changes and communicate with their children throughout this process.

Schools:

What individual schools can do to accommodate to immigrant youth:

  1. Develop peer mentoring programs. Research participants discussed the benefits of matching the immigrant youth with another student who can understand their challenges. Mentors can reduce isolation and introduce the youth to new people and activities.
  2. Increasing openness and understanding. Students, teachers and principals should take part in educational activities that can prepare them for a more diverse student population. They should be aware of their impact on immigrant youth and practice openness and understanding to make them feel comfortable.
  3. Develop communication strategies and partnerships with parents. Parents may be excluded from their children’s high school experience when they are not aware of how they are to communicate with teachers and principals or if they face language barriers in communicating with them. Schools need to develop strategies that will enable parents to participate more and to inform them regularly about their children’s education.
  4. Increase social opportunities for immigrant youth. Immigrant youth need to be aware of and have access to social opportunities with other students within the school.  This will help them develop stronger social networks, understand the culture of their new country and orient them to the type of activities that are available to them.
  5. Develop leadership opportunities. Immigrant youth must be encouraged to assume leadership roles to increase their involvement and opportunities within the school. This can also provide valuable growth and learning for both immigrant youth and native students and can increase full student representation in decision making.
  6. Develop a welcoming, representative environment. Schools should be a place where all students feel represented and valued. Steps should be taken to incorporate these qualities into schools so that they are structurally, behaviorally and visually more welcoming.

School Boards:

What school boards can do to make meaningful changes in the learning environment:

  1. Hire qualified, quality teachers. Hiring practices should prioritize teachers who understand diversity issues and the various needs of their students, and teachers who are representative of the student population. Current teachers should be properly trained on diversity issues and be acknowledged and supported for their commitment to these efforts.
  2. Increase multi-cultural training of teachers. Teachers are not always prepared for working with diverse populations, or properly educated on the issues and realities that accompany immigrant youth when they arrive in a foreign country. Mandatory training for teachers should be incorporated into all schools.
  3. Increase subsidies and make them more available to immigrant youth. Make sure that immigrant youth are aware of subsidies for books and extra-curricular activities.
  4. Provide orientation for the parents. An orientation will ensure that parents are well informed when their children enroll in school.

Provincial Education System:

What system-level changes should be made regarding the success of immigrant youth in high school:

  1. Increase funding for partnerships between schools and community organizations: Partnerships between schools and community programs such as the YMCA settlement services are of great value to immigrant families. Strengthening these partnerships will benefit schools, families and communities.
  2. Incorporate a more comprehensive ESL program: Research participants suggested changes to the current ESL curriculum, such as positioning grammar as a central component of their ESL learning priorities in order to improve their written and verbal skills.
  3. Value quality education for all youth: Ideas about quality education should consider what each child requires in order to complete high school successfully. This should be an ongoing message within government and communities especially for youth who experience an “education gap” from going in and out of school in their home countries. Strategies should be explored so that these youth are not pushed out of the high school system before they are ready to leave.
  4. Develop support for parents: There should be a designated contact that can ensure families get the information they need when they arrive.
  5. Offer more support, programs, and time for immigrant families: After families arrive, they should be given more support in transitioning their children into school.

Communities:

What communities can do:

  1. Be more welcoming: Communities should work to increase understanding of immigrants and to welcome them as an important part of the social, cultural and economic make-up of the community.
  2. Acknowledge the potential and skills of immigrants: Communities should be open to the skills, abilities and credentials of immigrants and support them in finding employment.
  3. Adapt to the changing population: Communities should be open, flexible and adaptive to the immigrant population.
  4. Increase immigrant-friendly policies and representation of immigrants in the community: Immigrants should be adequately represented in decision-making roles in communities to ensure appropriate input into policies and other decisions that affect them.
  5. Make immigrant youth aware of positive role models: Communities should help connect immigrant youth with positive role models that can provide them with mentorship and confidence in themselves.

This research illustrates the complexity of the immigrant youth experience and how little is currently being done to accommodate their situation. Immigrant families generally have high expectations of what a foreign education can provide for them. Yet, there are many challenges preventing the fulfillment of these expectations. The active participation of schools, school boards, communities, etc. can greatly reduce this and consequently ease high-school drop-out rates and increase the success of high schools.

Source: http://tinyurl.com/3c7vv23

by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology

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Filed under Global Youth, Youth, Youth Empowerment

Pathways to Success: Immigrant Youth at High School Part I

In diverse cities like New York there is a greater chance that older immigrant youth, without the time to learn and the ability to speak fluent English, will drop out of high school. Also, discrimination; social and geographic isolation; little or no work experience; and lower levels of English proficiency make it even more difficult for older immigrant youth to find employment—thus resulting in disconnection. Immigrants comprise 30% of high school drop-outs in the Unites States. In Canada—the location of the Pathways to Success: Immigrant Youth at High School research project—studies on immigrant youth show that alarmingly high numbers, 46% to 74% in some areas, do not complete high school.

The Pathways to Success research project was a partnership between the Center for Research and Education in Human Services (CREHS) and Wilfrid Laurier University and was conducted in 2006. The Waterloo region of Canada was used as a case study to explore factors that can maximize social and academic accomplishment in immigrant youth attending high school. The project builds on past research by providing in-depth insights into the immigrant youth experience in high school—their challenges, desires, and attitudes to their situation— in order to offer concrete “pathways of success” rooted in the experiences of the immigrant students themselves. The study was centered on youth aged 16 to 20 who had been living in Canada at most five years. The surveyed students where from four ethno-cultural backgrounds: Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan; Northeast Africa; Spanish-speaking Latin America; and the former Yugoslavia.

The project emerged from the increasing concerns about the standing of immigrant youth when they arrive in Canada because the drop-out rates have created challenges for school boards, educators, and communities. Waterloo was an ideal location because it is a mid-sized urban community with a high immigrant population. The researchers’ hope is that their work can be applicable to other communities.

Collecting Data

The questions that guided this study were:

  1. What factors help and hinder positive social and academic outcomes for immigrant youth in high school?
    • What enables them to succeed in school?
    • What prevents them from succeeding in school?
    • What contributes to the desire to either stay in school or leave?
  2. What are the current promising practices or success stories?
  3. What role should peers, families, educational institutions, and the community-at-large play in facilitating positive academic and social outcomes for immigrant youth in school?
  4. What policy instruments and program models within the school system would maximize positive academic and social outcomes for immigrant youth in school?

Methods of gathering information:

  1. Ten key informant interviews with school board trustees/senior administrators, student leaders, parents serving on the Parent Council, ESL teacher, and other community leaders: The purpose of these interviews was to address the guiding questions from different perspectives.
  2. Eight focus groups with immigrant youth, parents of the immigrant youth, and high school teachers: The information gathered in the key informant interviews helped to frame further questions to ask the focus group participants.
  3. Ten in-depth individual interviews with immigrant youth.
  4. A community forum attended by approximately 160 participants including youth, teachers, service providers, government representatives, families, and other interested citizens: The purpose of this was to present the study’s findings and to mobilize the community in the development of a set of strategies to ensure greater success of immigrant youth in high schools.

Research Findings

The results of this study were organized under sections that emerged from the data: the first impression immigrant youth have once arriving in Canada; what enables immigrant youth to have positive experiences in school; and what factors hinder positive experiences.

1. First Impressions

In general, youth and parents both spoke of the opportunities available in Canada, as well as the challenges and stresses related to adapting to a new home. In regard to the school system, some immigrant youth spoke positively about their first impressions and experiences of high school. For them, high school offered new benefits and opportunities not available in their native countries (e.g., more freedoms, better preparation for post-secondary education). Yet other youth also described their first experience of high school as a time of intense confusion and disorientation. This was especially the case for youth who struggled with English when they first arrived.

2. What Enables Positive Outcomes

The enabling factors are organized under three main categories: individual and family level, institutional level and community level. The individual and family level included self-motivation, family support, peer support, and friendships. The institutional level included supportive teachers and principals, consistent and quality education, and specific school, or school-community support systems. On the community level, enabling factors included community support services.

3. What Hinders Positive Outcomes

There are three main categories: individual and family level, institutional level, and socio-political level. Although presented as individual factors, quite often participants reported that a combination of factors led to negative outcomes for youth in high school. On the individual level, the hindering factors were difficulties fitting in to high school culture; the trauma and stress of escaping from war or violence in their native countries; their parents’ unemployment; and parent-child role reversal. The institutional level included unwelcoming school culture and climate; inadequate resources and support systems in school; and difficulties with the school system and meeting academic requirements. The socio-economic level included gaps in education and lack of fluency in English; and teasing and bullying from their peers.

With all this information, the researchers were able to devise a set of recommendations to improve the immigrant experience in high school and possibly reduce drop-out rates.

Source: http://tinyurl.com/3c7vv23

by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology

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Filed under Global Youth, Youth, Youth Empowerment

Bringing Together Diverse Methods of Re-engagement: The HEROES Model Part II

As previously mentioned, the five programs explored by the Youth Adult Capacity Initiative (case studies) are programs located in neighborhoods that are densely populated with disconnected youth. Even though they were successful in different areas of youth development, their impact could easily be drowned in these same communities if they are not able to effectively influence a larger percentage of the demographic in order to effect visible change. These programs and better ones should be replicated and funded, to exponentially increase impact. As such, the HEROES (Heritage, Education, Relationship, Opportunity, Entrepreneurship and Sports) model is a hybrid of these programs, inter-networked with the Liberty-LEADS model for catering to at-risk youth, through consistent positive engagement and support. In developing this model, the founders of Re:LIFE sought for successful strategies and plans that have worked at different programs, and through personal experience dealing with this population. This model was applied in the development of the Re:LIFE Reengagement Program for Disconnected Youth.

Understanding the HEROES Model is important to effectively implementing it:

Heritage: For many immigrants, who cannot communicate effectively in English, it is important to teach the appreciation of cultures and peoples. This creates a sense of community among participants, which could help retention rates, as well as enthusiasm to learn about other cultures and English language in order to succeed educationally and otherwise. One’s knowledge of their heritage has the ability to empower them, build confidence and pride, and excite learning. In order to successfully impact youth, it is imperative that they learn about their cultures, history, experiences and about heroes of their heritage who have or share similar journeys in achieving success.

Education: This is one of the most important solutions to curbing disconnection. As with the Liberty LEADS program, positively engaging disconnected youth six times a week, will keep them busy, expand their horizons and opportunities, as well as reduce crimes associated with being idle. This was constantly explored throughout all five case studies, and plays a crucial role in shaping policies affecting disconnected youth. However, many of these studies only engaged youth for three to five hours per day and three to four times a week. This still leaves room for a relapse back into activities and environments that encourage disconnection and crime. It is therefore necessary to explore and constantly implement new educational strategies that engage youth over longer periods of time during the day and week, with an incentive or rewards approach, that prove successful. This will involve understanding their interests, talents, skills and preferences, (e.g. music, dance, theater, spoken word/rap, photography etc.) and channeling them into their daily/weekly activities.

Relationships: As seen from the challenges of the explored programs, providing just GED and job readiness programs are not sufficient to thwart the effects of disconnection. One has to fully understand youth in order to effectively serve them. This involves, building a “relationship of trust” through counseling, one-on-one mentoring and creating an environment of trust to help foster success. Also healthy relationships teach these youth how to interact with other people, which is necessary for successful transition into society. As such, it is gainful to incorporate relationship-based classes like conflict resolution in the community, constructive debate and communication, anti-violence, community leadership and peer-mentoring classes. These classes could be offered in partnership with higher institutions to help students acquire certificates or diplomas as they go through the program.

Opportunity: It is necessary to create job opportunities for disconnected youth to help motivate them out of disconnection. This involves job training that could lead to career jobs, programs and incentives that would motivate students to explore different skills, talents and services that might enhance their opportunities. Rewarded internships, apprenticeship, vocational training and work-study programs must be part of a youth development program to help encourage and motivate youth in transitioning. As previously said, programs that involve the acquisition of certificates and diplomas for completed courses will actually make participants more marketable as they pass through the program.

Entrepreneurship: As an advocate of youth Entrepreneurship, I have learned that it is important that we teach youth how to provide for themselves through their interests, talents and skills they may possess. One of the major concerns for disconnected youth is earning a wage or making money. As such, teaching and coaching them to monetize ideas that interest them will help empower them, while encouraging them to diligently pursue other goals like education. There are several disconnected male and female youth involved in illegal business dealings, which if guided and taught how to, could create legitimate businesses that would provide for them and their families.

Sports: Physical fitness and nutritional health is very crucial in helping curb disconnection because most jobs that do not require four year degrees like construction, healthcare and transportation would require youth to be fit and in good health. As such, an effective program should incorporate nutrition and fitness training in its curriculum.

HEROES is a model that will impact youth positively and help curb disconnection because it is a hybrid of techniques that have worked in different programs, which are currently impacting minority, disconnected youth lives. The Re:LIFE Reengagement Program is one that ideally employs the HEROES model of success. With the proper funding and acquisition of the required materials, Re:LIFE will be able to positively affect the lives of disconnected youth in NYC and help revolutionize the socio-economic state of high-poverty communities like Harlem.

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Bringing Together Diverse Methods of Re-engagement: The HEROES Model Part I

There are a number of nonprofit and community organizations that provide different services aimed at empowering youth—from health, to education, to criminal justice, etc. Some of these organizations offer more than one service and have succeeded in impacting youth more effectively than others. In order to successfully resolve the problem of youth disconnection, it is important that effective programs be identified and supported. This will help allocate funding more efficiently as well as increase the impact of these programs. The Young Adult Capacity Initiative (YACI) conducted case studies a few years ago to explore the effectiveness of five programs located in New York City neighborhoods that are densely populated with disconnected youth. Re:LIFE is based upon the HEROES model of disconnection—a unique model that incorporates the findings of these studies by merging successful tactics of other youth reconnection programs and avoiding their mistakes.

The Youth Development Institute (YDI) funded five community-based agencies in NYC’s highly concentrated “disconnected youth” neighborhoods to create programs that would address the needs of this demographic. YDI saw the need for programs that would assist young adults in finishing their education, learning basic occupational skills, finding jobs and learning the skills and attitudes necessary to keep the job. In addition, they included that these programs needed to provide a range of services beyond GED classes and help with resume writing and interview skills. The five programs established by YDI included Cypress Hills Youth LEAD, East Side House Settlement, El Camino, Sesame Flyers International, and New Heights Neighborhood Center. These were the programs YACI examined in their case studies.

Outtakes From the Case Studies:

Case 1 (Brooklyn) Cypress Hills Youth LEAD (Learning, Educating others, and Achieving Dreams) Program:

This was an initiative within the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC) in East New York. East New York is in eastern Brooklyn, a part of Brooklyn plagued with high crime rates and violence, high disconnection rates, poverty and low educational attainment. The Cypress Hill LEAD Program initially provided GED preparation classes, weekly employment workshops and social events. It later added a job readiness workshop and counseling aspects of youth development. The main challenge of the Youth LEAD program as indicated by its operators was addressing the high level of support needed by their disconnected youth population. According to some of the staff, they believed that they were only “scratching the surface” of what services they needed to offer. Of the 430 young adults who enrolled in the program since its inception in 2002, 87 registered for the GED, 75 took the exam, 45 received their GEDs and 95 have obtained a job. While there has been some success to the program, its success rate could be better.

Case 2 (Bronx) East Side House Settlement (ESHS):

This was the second study, located in Mott Haven, the Nation’s poorest Congressional District. Its population has very high unemployment rates, low graduation rates and very high disconnection rates. The emphasis of the program at East Side House was on relationship building with youths and retention strategies.ESHS incorporated activities like having students call fellow absent classmates, changing their orientation process, providing counseling and making referrals to other programs if needed as techniques to improve student retention and success rates. Their major challenge was in understanding the needs of this demographic in order to effectively support them. Of 262 students in 2005, 37 took the GED test and passed, 33 obtained jobs. Once again, 37 out of 262 is a low percent success rate.

Case 3 (Harlem – Upper Manhattan) El Camino (the Path):

El Camino was a program at The Harlem’s Children Zone (HCZ) in Central Harlem. Central Harlem is one of New York City’s most poor neighborhoods, with a child poverty rate of 39 percent and plagued with several social ills like poor housing, domestic violence, child abuse, failing educational standards etc. Regular attendance to the GED program was a major problem for this program. Being that its disconnected youth had been out of school for longer periods of time, it affected their attendance rates. Also, having an open policy system of admittance made it difficult to effectively cater to students at a consistent rate and diluted the educational effect of the system. Even though HCZ has been nationally honored for being one of the country’s “most effective and innovative community-building and youth development organizations”, and has achieved great success with in-school youth, the director of the program admitted that their original projected outcomes for the program were entirely unrealistic and did not reflect the reality of what it means to work with this population.

Case 4 (Brooklyn) Sesame Flyers International (SFI):

SFI is a nonprofit organization that operates various cultural, recreational and educational youth development programs in and around the Greater East Flatbush community in Brooklyn. It was founded by Caribbean immigrants to offer their children a place and an opportunity to learn about their cultural heritage. The program instituted at SFI was tagged “Get R.I.C.H”, (meaning Reaching Individuals to Change Humanity). The goal of the Get RICH program was to expose youth to different employment skill-building workshops and one-on-one employment counseling. Furthermore, SFI provided programs such as social and recreational activities (basketball and dance), GED classes, a youth employment program, counseling by case workers and peer support. They met three hours a day, four days a week. During these four days, participants got to meet with staff members once a week. They were trained in job readiness skills, resume building, job search skills, interviewing techniques and computer training. They also instituted a Career Make Over cycle of thirteen weeks—six weeks of training and seven weeks of job searching.

According to SFI, their biggest challenge was defining their target population for the Employment Program because according to them, “there were many subgroups embedded within the disconnected youth group”. The Get R.I.C.H program had only delivered services to 33 youth after the completion of their second Career Make Over cycles. They averaged 8 students per cycle per location, for which success data was not released.

Case 5 (Washington Heights – Upper Manhattan) New Heights Neighborhood Center (NHNC):

NHNC is located in Washington Heights/ Inwood section of upper Manhattan, and has the largest enclave of Dominican immigrants in New York City.The Washington Heights region of upper Manhattan houses a community also plagued with high disconnection rates, unemployment and gang violence. The goal of NHNC was to establish a working relationship between disconnected youth and local businesses in the area. It’s main challenge as it identified was understaffing, and the return of students who were seeking educational, instead of employment goals.

Unfortunately, while this organization succeeded in establishing relationships with local organizations for the benefit of their youth, it seemed to be more centered on providing menial jobs and employment for students, instead striving to educate them as well. Sometimes there is an underlying belief that the youths are not really “cut-out” for education, so instead of “wasting time” trying to persuade or encourage them, finding them menial jobs is deemed a better route to results. As reported by YACI, of 487 students served by the end of 2005, 167 obtained jobs, 207 enrolled in a GED program, and only 28 passed the GED exam. While any success is good, the educational component of this program was dismal, and calls into question the long-term benefits of the program.

The HEROES model for success stands for Heritage, Education, Relationship, Opportunity, Entrepreneurship and Sports. One problem of the five case studies and their results was the fact that most of the programs dealt with one or at most three aspects of the HEROES model. This in turn translated to referrals (if done at all) to other programs. The negative implication of this is that youth might get discouraged if the services at the referred program fall short of warming or effective. Another problem was the lack of an effective tracking method. The inability to track students, who even though they obtain their GED might need help obtaining work or applying to college, dilutes the effort invested in helping those youths in the first place.

Also, the pressure to raise adequate funds by many of these organizations resulted in a redirection of focus for many of them. In a bid to stay afloat financially, programs gradually start to treat participants as statistics/data necessary for fundraising, instead of individuals with colluded problems in need of help. This problem is the main reason why many students are increasingly being cared for at a minimal rate. The provision of GED classes and some job readiness program have become the threshold for measuring success of disconnected youth services, which unfortunately have done little to resolve this enormous and growing problem.  This is why the implementation and duplication of the HEROES model cannot be over-emphasized.

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