Thursday, July 22, 2010

Article in NY Times: Graduation Is the Goal, Staying Alive the Prize

Just read this article in the New York Times: Graduation Is the Goal, Staying Alive the Prize.

This article talks about the muti-million dollar program launched by Chicago Public Schools to "get ahead of the next killings". According to the article, "the schools conducted an analysis to identify the 250 students most at risk of being shot (by studying profiles of 500 recent victims). Since December, each of those students has had an advocate on call to offer caretaking and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The 60 advocates hired so far function like a high-energy amalgam of parent, tutor, friend and life coach, sometimes tackling simple assignments like homework. But more often they delve into the heart-wrenching details of the students’ lives. More than one has sat bedside in a hospital emergency room after bullets ricocheted through a charge’s body."

This is great if the money is there to keep these advocates connected to these kids for the next few years.

The Times article quotes Ron Huberman, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, who says, “Giving them a meaningful adult relationship, advocating for them and giving them incentive is the key to changing their behavior, since some of the students most at risk of being shot are also most likely to perpetrate violence."

According to the report, "Each advocate is assigned no more than four students and is paid $12 an hour for one-on-one time with the students."

What’s wrong with this picture?

There are 200,000 k-12 youth living in high poverty areas of Chicago, and thousands are at risk because of this long-term combination of highly concentrated poverty, racial segregation, and poor schools.

Spending millions of dollars on 250 of these students without a comprehensive plan to expand the number of other students who have “meaningful adult relationships” that Huberman describes, is short sighted.

What type of skills and experiences is a $12/hour mentor/advocate bringing to this job? What networks do they have to open doors at colleges or in area jobs for the young people they are working with?

At Cabrini Connections and at other volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in Chicago, students are also connected to adults who are forming “meaningful relationships”. However, these are adults who hold a variety of jobs, ranging from high paid attorneys, to software engineers, artists and film makers. Many are already college graduates. Some hold advanced degrees. They don't live in poverty. They come from many different parts of the country. They can model opportunities and careers and aspirations for these young people, because they already have these jobs and experiences.

What kind of experience does a $12 hour social worker/mentor/advocate have? Are they still connected and committed to these young people when the money runs out to pay them? Are they still connected 37 years after their first contact, as I am with the boy I met in 1973 when he was in 4th grade?

Not every volunteer stays connected to a youth for as long as I have. In fact many don't stay involved for more than a year. And many are not as well supported as they need to be.

Why? The non-school tutor/mentor industry has the same challenges as the public school system. Not enough good leaders. Not enough well-trained and committed volunteers in tutor/mentor roles.

However, as this article shows, mentoring connects adults who might never be involved with issues of poverty, with kids, and then opens their eyes to the challenges those kids face. If we can expand the support for well-organized tutor/mentor programs, we can expand the number of volunteers who get involved, and stay involved. We can expand the number of people who are concerned about the violence in big cities and the poor schools that feed this problem.

Read the articles on this blog and follow the links. Learn how you, your company and your faith group can take lead roles to help make volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs available in more of the neighborhoods with high poverty, high violence and high numbers of poorly performing schools.

Then help mobilize resources for each of these programs to be operating this fall, and to constantly learn from each other, and from their own work, so they are constantly expanding their impact.

If you can help find donors to support the Tutor/Mentor Connection, we can continue to provide our own vision and leadership to this effort and we can continue to provide the Chicago Tutor/Mentor Program Locator resource to everyone in Chicago.

No comments: