A few years ago I mentored a young man who was 14 years old. He was in an alternative school, reading at a 2nd grade level, and performing math at a 4th grade level. The previous school year he had missed somewhere around 100 days of school for various reasons. He had a loose affiliation with a local street gang that was becoming more influential as the days went on. All things considered, he was a good child but was headed down the path to destruction.
I introduced him to a variety of extra curricular activities including signing him up for an athletic team at the local recreation center. He showed a fleeting interest but was more focused on making money and finding his own path. He was gifted in repairing and making things with his hands and showed a focus and discipline that was refreshing. His school had some opportunities for apprenticeships in skilled labor, but students needed to be a certain age and grade level to participate. The fear for this young man—as it is for so many others in his situation—is that by the time he was eligible he would not be available to participate.
Benjamin Franklin once said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The city of Baltimore needs to pilot a program for students like this young man. We could call it Project Hope.
Let’s start with 50 students who meet specific criteria: middle school students who are at least two grade levels behind, have been consistently late and/or truant, have documented and extensive behavior issues in and out of school, and are interested in learning a skilled trade. The students would be supported by mentors who would help facilitate and coordinate their plan of success.
Local businesses would provide training with the incentive of receiving a tax credit based on the number of students who successfully complete the program. The state and local government would provide the subsidy for materials and program costs and assess a special tax to local businesses to provide revenue for the program.
The school system would provide a special academic track for the students. The city office of employment and development would recruit employers to hire students upon successful completion of the program. Students would receive a stipend while training. The amount received would be based on academic and job skills achievement. Students who successfully complete the program would be recognized in the local media and celebrated throughout the community.
If we continue to stand and scratch our heads and keep restating the problem with our young people and don’t act, we are no better than those who lie in wait looking to steal their hope and destroy their futures.