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A Lost Generation of Youth
The Department of Labor funds a number of programs for youth, between the ages of 12 and 25. The aims of these programs include youth and employability development and vocational skills training in many different forums. However, I recommend that the US federal government do a better job of auditing their programs and analyzing community needs. Because of budget cuts and appropriations to other federal programs, projects in need and that proved successful were not funded or refunded. I recommend that the federal government provide more support for youth programs and schools in economically disadvantaged areas.
Minister Chao announced a $20 million grant to the National Urban Alliance to continue and expand its Urban Youth Empowerment Program. “The income and self-esteem that comes with success at work is critical for young people trying to change their lives,” Chao said. “With this $20 million grant, we are tripling our commitment to the President’s Urban Youth Empowerment Initiative to help at-risk youth prepare for full-time work. A significant portion of this grant will Helping young people in New Orleans and beyond who were impacted by last year’s hurricanes.”
In 2004, the US Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration awarded $9.2 million to the National Urban League to design and implement national demonstration programs for at-risk, out-of-school, and adjudicated youth ages 16-24. Urban League affiliates partner with faith-based and community-based organizations to provide youth career-focused employability skills, co-op and on-the-job training to help participants enter full-time private sector employment. I applaud Secretary Chao and First Lady Laura Bush for making this initiative a priority, but there is still a greater need.
While it looks like the federal government is appropriating money for the program, they could do more. In the spring of 2000, the Department of Labor awarded its first 36 Youth Opportunity Grants to youth living in empowerment zones, enterprise zones, and other impoverished urban and rural areas. The five-year program aims to target high-poverty areas to expand employment opportunities for youth. During the five-year term, the Department of Labor committed to distribute $250 million to the 36 cities in need. Most of these 36 cities have programs that have proven to be successful, so the question is why doesn’t the Department of Labor give them back?
One model I recommend is the federally funded Acquire Early Awareness and Preparation for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). GEAR UP’s main initiative is to guide young people into higher education. GEAR UP is a discretionary grant program designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. GEAR UP provides 6-year grants to states and partners to provide services in high-poverty middle and high schools. GEAR UP grantees serve the entire cohort of students beginning no later than seventh grade and following that cohort through high school. GEAR UP funds are also used to provide college scholarships to low-income students. Programs like GEAR UP truly reflect the needs of the communities we serve.
To improve GEAR UP, I propose that the program be available to both the out-of-school and on-campus populations. There are many young people who have received a GED and have access to their services. The program could also be improved by educating youth about access to technical schools and entrepreneurship, as well as college and university options. Business involvement is critical to a teen’s long-term success. At-risk students often need more than their school counselors or teachers can give them. What they need is the perception of the real world from adults, especially business people (Laabs, 2004). This program might be an ideal one if they included more business engagement and alternative education in their program.
National Youth Network Advocates have an obligation to educate and encourage policymakers to actively recognize, protect and enhance the value of youth to the nation. I agree with them; however, projects can survive with private sector funding. Through the partnership of community organizations and private grants, youth programs can exist without help from the federal government. Policymakers seem to have too much power in decisions about youth and their development. As a result, private organizations can contribute and develop programs and meet the needs of community youth without the constraints of the federal government.
The ideal model for a youth program is to receive funding from several different sources. It is appropriate to use federal, state, and private sector funding for the desired model. When one source gets low or depleted, another source will make up the difference to continue funding. However, three different sources of income do not imply three different sets of rules and outcomes. The plan will stick to a set of outcomes that satisfy all three stakeholders. Funding from the private sector will consist of collaborations with different entities contributing to the fund. The ideal model will have an internal and external auditor to maintain program compliance. The ideal model will also have a grant writing team; this team will be responsible for researching and securing new grants for project sustainability.
The ideal model would integrate leadership skills into all participants; mastery of these skills by participants is critical to their success throughout life. The ideal model will include skills such as trust, communication and being a visionary leader.
Participants will learn that trust is an important leadership characteristic. They must earn the trust of colleagues, supervisors and future employees. When trust is established, employees will continue to work hard day by day. Without trust, the process is likely to stretch beyond the expected timeline. People trust people who really know them and who have their best interests at heart (Pearce, 2003). Participants will understand that by building this trust; they will have employees who work hard for them.
Communication is an important leadership trait that every good leader must have and can use effectively. Participants will be encouraged to develop their own leadership style and learn the best way to communicate with others. Pearce (2003) noted that if leaders recognize their own automatic emotional responses, they can actually tailor their communication to be more appropriate, less demanding, and more encouraging. Participants will be encouraged to do some self-reflection about how they communicate with others. They must work to recognize their weaknesses and be willing to work on them in order to be effective communicators. Heifetz (2003) argues that people must start confronting the choices and challenges they face. Through participants overcoming challenges and weaknesses, they are developing strong leadership skills.
The ideal model would teach participants to look into the future and imagine what they might become and what they would achieve. Becoming a visionary leader is worth the risk because the goal goes beyond material gain or personal advancement. Leadership provides meaning in life by making life better for those around you (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002). Participants will learn what it means to be a leader with a vision that starts from within. It stems from their past and the history of those around them. Additionally, they look beyond themselves and how they can serve others in order to impact their lives.
The process of developing the ideal model will begin by convening a collaboration of experts in the field of youth development. The collaboration will develop a 5-year plan for the project. The plan will include project funding and sustainability; planned outcomes, policies, and procedures; community engagement; and target populations. An ideal model would follow up participants consistently at 1-month, 3-month, and 6-month intervals to ensure success. Some programs emphasize subject orientation, while others focus on developing innovative programs designed to meet students’ unique educational needs (Lehr & Lange, 2003). The ideal program will be unique in that it will address the specific problems and needs of the target population.
The process will also include wraparound services for participants. By providing such services, it will enable the program to meet the real needs of participants. Previous research (Carney and Buttell, 2003) has shown that wraparound services provide young people with the support they need to develop appropriate skills. Juvenile offenders who received comprehensive services were less absent from school, less frequently suspended from school, less frequently run away from home, and less aggressive than those who received routine services (eg, counseling, substance abuse treatment, counseling) , are less likely to be picked up by the police and more likely to find a job (Carney & Buttell, 2003). Ideal programs will be able to extend their help to participants by offering wraparound services.
Finally, all stakeholders must be involved in the development of the ideal model. Over time, stakeholders develop a spiral of confidence and courage that leads to positive and successful student outcomes (Covey, Merrill, & Merrill, 2003). One of the key stakeholders is the parents and the influence they have on their children’s lives. The ideal model will interact and engage with the participants’ parents at all levels. Previous research has shown that parental involvement is one of the key factors for alternative education students to stay in school and earn a high school diploma or GED credential (May and Copeland, 1998).
Educators, policy makers, and researchers are routinely confronted with claims about the effectiveness of various educational programs and policies designed to help improve children’s achievement (Slavin, Fshola, & Normore, 2000). However, they fail to take into account all youth from different geographical, economic and social backgrounds. The main goal of an ideal program is to create opportunities for participants that would otherwise not be available.
Carney, MM and Buttell, F. (2003). Reducing youth recidivism: evaluating a wraparound service model. Research in Social Work Practice, 13, 551-568.
Covey, SR, Merrill, AR and Merrill, RR (2003). First things first. New York: Freedom of the Press.
Heifetz, R. (2003). Leadership has no easy answers. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, Harvard University Press.
Heifetz, R., & Linsky, M. (2002). Leading Online: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leadership. Boston: Harvard Business School.
Laabs, JJ (2004. Disadvantaged youth striving for a better future. Journal of Personnel, 73(12), 34-40.
Lehr, CA, & Lange, GM (2003). Alternative Schools Serving Students with and without Disabilities: What are the current issues and challenges? Preventing Academic Failure, 47(2), 59-65.
May, HE, & Copeland, EP (1998). Academic persistence and alternative high schools: Student and site characteristics. High School Journal, 81, 199-209.
Pierce, T. (2003). Lead Out Loud: Inspiring Change Through Authentic Communication. San Francisco: Josie Bass.
Slavin, R., Fashola, O. and Normore, A. H (2000). Give me proof! Offers proven and promising programs to American schools. Canadian Journal of Education, 25(2), 21-24.
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