After an unprecedented year, our youth deserve more investment and commitment.
As we continue to take steps to a more normal way of life, now is the time to address the needs of our youth, who have taken the biggest hit from our pandemic. With over 75 percent of K-12 students having not been in a classroom since last March, now is the time to double down on their needs so that we do not exacerbate the learning and career pathway losses they have already endured.
Higher Education Opportunity: In all honesty, I am tired of hearing from folks that not all students should go to college. Usually, those espousing that mantra the loudest sent all of their own children off to college — obviously a double standard. What is true is that all students should have the opportunity to attend college, and that opportunity should not be limited due to lack of resources, lack of family higher education history, or lack of college pathway support at the high school level. At the Boys & Girls Club, we began our College Bound program 19 years ago. Any youth who wanted the opportunity to attend college had the one-on-one and year-round college pathway support they needed to compete with their more affluent peers who can afford a college coach. This past year has maybe been our most impactful — with high schools closed to 93 percent of students since March 2020, they have had basically no college pathway support since that time other than what we have been able to provide at our five College Bound centers. And while we are proud of the 1,155 high school students and 604 seniors we have been serving while their schools have been closed this year, this is far too few to receive this important support for an “opportunity” to attend college. We invest well over one million dollars in our College Bound program annually. Still, there needs to be a much larger investment by many more entities in the year and years ahead to level the playing field and better prepare our students for an opportunity for higher education.
Workforce Development Opportunity: For those high school graduates not on a higher education pathway, there must be much better training and support systems in place for them to have a solid career pathway beyond high school. There is a great need already in entry and mid-level positions in the medical field, IT support, coding, and especially construction, given that Washington will eventually pass hundreds of billions of dollars for infrastructure projects. However, we have eliminated workforce-development-related classes in our high schools over decades, and we have very limited high-level training opportunities otherwise. Harbor Occupational Center is one avenue, but there is much less investment and opportunity than there was decades ago. Kudos to POLA High School for implementing their successful construction and welding certification program. But like College Bound, the numbers engaged are far too small. Before he passed, I had several discussions with Harbor Commissioner Dave Arian on his vision for a port-funded training/skills center in Wilmington. That would be a great investment, and we need to lobby our harbor commissioners to finally complete Dave’s dream. If we want options and opportunities for our youth, that type of investment and commitment is sorely needed.
“Brain Gain” Opportunity: Let’s face it, our K-12 and especially elementary students have lost so much learning opportunity since last March. Virtual classrooms were the only option until recently, and pretty much everyone agrees that our students do not learn well virtually while sitting at home and looking at a computer screen. Since last August, we kept our Boys & Girls Club sites open (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) to support students and parents who needed a place to go for connectivity and support. And while that effort was successful, we understand that the 600 K-8 students were far too few and that even with our support, this mode of instruction was far too limiting, and these students were falling further and further behind each day and week. Therefore, come August, when schools are to resume: 1.) All students and educators must be back in the classroom, and 2.) Providing a hybrid or virtual instruction must not continue. No excuses — our education system must fully open in August. More-than-adequate safety protocols can continue (maybe not testing students every week). In addition, community nonprofits, such as Boys & Girls Clubs and others, must collaborate with the LAUSD to best support students during the summer and after school when it resumes in August. All hands on deck! Our youth deserve nothing less. spt