Thursday, August 13, 2009

Last evening, we attended Jose's graduation from the Goodwill Industries Youth Build program for kids who have had poor starts in life compounded by a series of bad choices on their parts. Using the setting of the construction industry, young people who are no longer part of the public school system gain preparedness to pass the GED, earn a pre-apprenticeship certificate and be able to get jobs or further training. Jose did very well in the program; he worked for a time as a laborer on a site with a major construction company, got his GED and remained substance-free during the entire duration of his enrollment, something he told us the other kids mostly did not do, even though it could have meant expulsion. One of the final activities of the program was a tour of several local colleges.

I know what colleges popped into your mind, community colleges and technical schools, institutions that are a logical step for youth who have struggled, whose reading levels were barely 9th grade and math levels were middle-school when they started 8 months previously and have now improved to GED level, which isn't very high. Part of the graduation ceremony was a slide show chronicalling major events and activities for them. They hauled these newly hopeful youths to Central Washington University, Gonzaga University, WSU and University of Oregon.

I don't want to denigrate their achievement. Without Youth Build, these kids would still have no credentials nor training nor job readiness of any sort and be sleeping all day and roaming the streets at night (I'm just quoting the commencement speaker), but there is no way any of them, many with felony convictions, are going to get in to Gonzaga. There was one photo in the slide show that I think was unconsciously symbolic. It was at Gonzaga. All of the kids, identifiable by their Youth Build T-Shirts, were peering in to an vague space through one of those roll-down barriers, essentially through bars. Whatever was behind the barrier was clearly fascinating to each of them. But like Gonzaga itself, clearly unattainable. As good as the program is, it's not enough to get them into a four-year university of that quality. Maybe CWU, or even WSU, but Uof O and Gonzaga? I do not understand why they spent so much money on such an excursion. Why not take them to area 2 year colleges and training programs? Why give them a false sense of encouragement? True, I don't know how the trip was presented to them, but seeing that photo, disadvantaged kids, clinging to a barrier at an institution of higher learning while peering intently inside, really stung my heart.

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