Dignified and enriching options

Still, experts say reversing the tide of youth disconnection is about more than just getting kids into college. Burd-Sharps says schools need to incorporate “more dignified and enriching options” that target at-risk kids with programs focused on skills development preferably in collaboration with the private sector.

“A lot of guidance counselors really just offer one option, go on to a four-year college,” she said. “But that’s not always the best option, and everything else is sort of painted as second best.”

The City of Philadelphia has been making strides in improving the outcomes for youths at risk of disconnection.

Shortly after becoming mayor in 2008, Michael Nutter formed the Philadelphia Council for College and Career Success, with the goal of developing citywide partnerships, strategies and infrastructures to support youth attainment of 21st century skills and post-secondary education. Two of the Council’s three primary programs are managed by the Philadelphia Youth Network, which works with industry to provide alternative education focused on career development.

“Industry-specific jobs that could previously employ someone without a high school diploma are largely gone,” said Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, PYN’s acting president and CEO. “This has put pressure on school districts and workforce systems to increase vigor and revisit alignment with industry requirements.”

One of PYN’s programs, WorkReady Philadelphia, offers year-round and summer programs that provide adolescents with real-world career exposure and opportunities to enhance their understanding and mastery of skills needed to become active and productive citizens.

During 2011-2012 the program — which relies on funding from the public and private sectors — worked with nearly 500 employers to provide workplace experience and training to more than 8,400 Philadelphia youth, 78 percent of them African American.

Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune

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