Saturday, October 29, 2005

White House holds conference on At-Risk Youth. What's Next

On Oct. 16 I wrote about the Million More March, held in Washington, and said, "Where's the plan?" On Oct 27 the White House hosted a conference focusing on the needs of at-risk youth. It was video conferenced so many people could participate. Follow this link and you'll find details on the conference and a lot of good information on why America needs to do something more than what's been done so far.

During the same week, Chicago Public Schools hosted their annual Principal for a Day event, that attracts business people, celebrities, the Mayor and others to go to a public school and serve as "principal" for a day. It's a great PR event, and the schools follow up and ask business leaders to donate money and form volunteer programs that work with the schools. Here's the link to the CPS web site that outlines their goals for the event:

In the follow up to the White House Conference, a new organization and a new web site has been set up to get people involved. It is

What bothers me is that this is looks an awful lot like what America's Promise was set up to do. Visit and make your own comparison. I was a
Chicago delegate in 1997 to the America's promise meeting in Philadelphia. I see the same reinvention of the wheel in the White House event as in the America's Promise event.

How do these relate to Chicago's Principal for a Day? None use a Map to show where the greatest concentrations of at-risk youth are located and none are creating "blueprints" that visually show how business, non profits, community, churches, colleges, media and political leaders need to be consistently engaged, during the non-school hours and the summer, not just at the school from 9 to 3pm, and for many years, in order to change the aspirations, then the academic performance of kids born in concentrated, inner-city poverty. In these neighborhoods most of the community role models are people who live on welfare, or who are ex-offenders or people who make a living in illegal enterprises.

Unless we expand the network of role-models we cannot change student aspirations, and unless we keep these role models connected with kids for many years, we also cannot change what adults are willing to do to help kids move through school and into jobs.

Without a map, such as I show in the Program Locator at a city will never be able to build a strategy that supports the growth of needed tutoring/mentoring in every poverty neighborhood. And, without using visual blueprints, similar to the Power Point essays I show at the Tutor/Mentor Institute section of the same web site, people won't differentiate between the various types of services that are needed, and which need to be available in age-appropriate format, to kids in every neighborhood as they grow up.

Finally, what disappoints me even more, is that there are too many people holding conferences that draw attention to significant issues, are not using the Internet to encourage contact, networking, interaction and engagement among the people who attended and those who might have just heard about it in the media.

I'm hosting a Tutor/Mentor Conference on Nov. 17 and 18. This will be the 24th time I've hosted this in Chicago since May 1994. The goal is to help people build and sustain comprehensive, mentor-rich programs in all high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago and other big cities. (We have people attending who come from rural areas of high poverty, where the lack of mentors is the same, but geography poses different problems of how to create programs that connect youth and adults.) I hope some people who attended the White House event will find and want to attend.

However, if they cannot come to Chicago, they can also go to our web portal and join the on-line discussions that run parallel to the face to face event. No matter where someone is in the world they can connect on line. And if we can find help to facilitate these discussions we can lead a process of what works well in some places, and what needs to be done so those good ideas can be working well in all the other places where they are needed.

We don't need any more community needs assessment. We need leaders in communities who will build maps showing where the problem is, what organizations are in the neighborhoods already trying to end poverty by helping kids go to school and get a job when they leave school. And we need leaders who will use these maps, and their personal and professional visibility and leadership ability, to regularly encourage volunteers, donors and business leaders to reach out and become long-term partners to help these programs achieve their goals.

At the same time communities need to use the maps to learn which neighborhoods have high needs, but are missing some of the needed services that are available in other neighborhoods. Using the knowledge we have of existing programs, community and business partners can borrow ideas from what works in some places, so new programs don't reinvent the wheel, but start out with the collective experience of everyone else who has already been doing this work for many years.

Using their high visibility, the White House, CPS and the Mayor could give daily visibility and leadership to this strategy. As a result we'd have a lot more people involved in all the places where they are needed, and where non profit leaders are struggling just to pay the rent to keep their programs alive. If we keep them involved long enough, we'll begin to see a change in student aspirations, student performance, and the ability of more kids to leave school prepared for careers. I outline this Theory of Change in a Power Point essay that can be found in the Tutor/Mentor Institute section of the web site.

I hope you'll comment, or pass this on to others who want to help kids.

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

No comments: