High-Risk Youth: I Believe That Children Are the Future, but What Will the Future Hold
It is evident when we look at the population of elementary, middle, and high school students throughout our nation, that we as a society are failing our children. Our successes, in relation to our population, are dwindling. And, in some cases, we must question the validity of success when the bar of excellence has been lowered to allow our children to leap over it. With jaw-dropping numbers of teen-pregnancy, teen crime, high school dropouts, and other such statistics, the question certainly isn’t whether or not we have a problem, but how do we define and rectify it?
State after state, city after city, within our great nation’s lower socio-economic communities, continue to attempt to address the problem by developing “This High Risk Youth Center” and “That High Risk Youth Organization” focusing on promise as opposed to despair. But to no avail. There is a growing number of children within our population that fit into the framework of a “High-Risk Youth” according to The Boston High Risk Youth Network’s definition – age 12-21, court-involved, obsessively truant or out of school; involved with gangs; a chronic substance abuser; homeless; or pregnant and/or a parent.
The problem, as I see it, is that many of the parents of High Risk Youths (HRY) were High Risk Youths themselves who were victims of societal apathy and are now High Risk Adults who are contributing to the conditions of apathy, disconnection, fragmentation, fear, lack of trust, inconsistency and a crisis-focused orientation in their own offspring. Some of them may have no idea where to start, how to contribute, may be unable to or may not have a desire to be a part of the process. Then there are some parents of children that are not in the high-risk group, that see it as an opportunity for their child to rise further to the top with less competition. I had to examine my own heart a few years ago after uttering the statement, “I know my children will get full scholarships to top universities, because they are a minority within our minority.” Churches and members within communities where HRY are prevalent, who have the desire to exact change in the world, will be inspired by program models depicting despair vs. promise; but to get buy-in from those who have the money necessary to make the change, we have to show the economic impact on society as a whole. Sadly people are often more likely to be driven by what impacts them and them alone. If there were some way to gather the numbers that show what percentage of children growing up in HRY communities were arrested for misdemeanor/felonies, committed violent crimes, imprisoned, dropped out of school, became parents before 18 years of age, were on government assistance, had credit scores below/above -, became home owners. And then, compare those numbers to a racially-diverse, non-risk youth community…if there’s shock value – use it to garner buy-in from moderate conservative organizations who see HRY/HR Adults as a drain on society, and aren’t so far to the right that they just don’t care; and moderate liberal organizations that aren’t so far to the left that they think that those in the high-risk groups need to be totally spoon fed.
One could target rental property owners, who lose money because so-called “affluent” people, who rent, don’t want to live in a High-Risk community even when they offer the lowest rental prices and the most square footage in the area. Housing Developers would stand to profit if a greater percentage of the population were “able” to own as opposed to rent. There would be a greater demand for housing, automobiles, gas, etc. Business owners, big and small would only stand to profit. There would be less need for low-income housing, and consequently housing developers would not have to set as large a portion of their homes aside for low-income. Oh my goodness…I almost forgot the institutions of higher learning! If fewer children are dropping out, failing classes, having children, living in dysfunctional homes…more kids are coming to college. With the increase in education in our society, there would be less need to go outside of the country for technical expertise. It’s a win/win for everyone.
One other very glaring truth – many of those outside of the HR communities are finishing high school, going to college-for anywhere between 4-8 years, building careers, “experiencing” life, purchasing homes, settling down, establishing their “nest egg” and THEN beginning families anywhere between early 30s to mid 40s. Consequently, we are seeing more families in this particular segment of the population with only one child. However, when we look at the HR communities, you see children (sometimes multiple) being born out-of-wedlock to teenage mothers and fathers, who then may later have more children as an adult when they “settle down”. Clearly at some point the so-called “have-nots” will outnumber the “haves”. It would be to everyone’s benefit to consider what type of effect that will have on our society…and for those who only look to the bottom dollar figure, our economy.
My uncle, Dan Willis, states that the solution lies in “placing all of our youth in the best position to be successful” – this is a powerful concept. Not a complex, convoluted way, but the RIGHT way. There is clearly a lower expectation for HRY. The “Bar of Excellence” is set so much lower…such that even those who are the cream of the crop – the top of the top in their communities, are really just at the top of the bottom in “the real world”. What does that do to a young mind when they leave their community and enter the world with hopes and dreams of contributing? I saw evidence of it in my own home, moving from Prince George’s County – a minority county, to Montgomery County – the wealthiest county in the state. My honor roll and straight A students struggled through their entire first year, bringing home Cs and Ds on their report cards for the first time in their lives. How could this be? Clearly, there was a major disparity in the positioning of the “Bar of Excellence” between the two counties. Montgomery County allowed my then 7th grader to enter an Algebra 1 course – a high-school level course, because he only missed the cut-off by a few points, but had a desire to reach higher – they encouraged his dreams. His teachers from Prince George’s County said that because he missed the testing cut-off he did not belong in the class, and would not recommend him taking the course even though he was in the highest math course in his sixth grade class for which he received and A – they, in essence, were telling him to dream a little smaller. He finished the Algebra 1 course with a high C which is average, and is now in Honor’s Geometry maintaining a solid A, for the second quarter in a row – the top of the top. Both of my sons will leave middle school with 3 high school credits, and the confidence in knowing it’s not because there was a “dumbing-down” of the expectations. But everyone cannot, and should not, have to move to ensure that their children receive the same education as the children that live 15 miles away. The standard should be the same across the board…and then the necessary agents applied to assist all in reaching as far as they can dream…and the agents aren’t step stools…it’s teaching them that they are allowed to dream BIGGER and BRIGHTER.