Reaching The Unreachable Stars – The Dilemma Of Disconnected Youth
Disconnected Youth a 21st Century Dilemmaby: By Frank Crump and Rod Ambrose (UPI Education), AZ Informant & AZ Nonprofit Magazine View original article here
On April 1, 2016, two young men, ages 22 and19, were shot in a mini-park in South Phoenix. On April 18 a 17 and 18-year-old were stabbed behind Cesar Chavez Library, resulting in the death of the 17-year-old. Such occurrences have become commonplace in South Mountain Village.
On May 1 Congressman Rueben Gallego’s office summoned local leaders of the African and Latino American communities to South Mountain Community College for a problem-solving meeting. In attendance were some of the best leadership minds, skilled practitioners of the social services, behavioral health, education, political and faith-based groups; each, sharing concern for the upsurge in local youth crime. The meeting centered around, “disconnected youth” (youth 16-24 years of age who have dropped out of school and are unemployed).
As expected, education and first-time job opportunities topped the list of potential solutions. Ironically, leaders proposed to bring our disconnected youth back into a “failed” Arizona educational system; which is one of the worst performing and poorly funded in the country. According to The State of Black Arizona’s recent data report (Spring 2016) “Arizona is in the bottom five percent of state funding for education with an annual per pupil funding of $7,205 in comparison, the national average per pupil is $10,700. Over the past few years, there has been $727 million dollars cut from K-12 education. For the public universities in Arizona, the governor and state legislature have cut more than $460 million in funding over the last seven years. Arizona ranks 49th in per resident spending on higher education; reaching below
$116 per resident in the coming fiscal year”. Arizona’s disconnected youth crisis was born by second and third generations of disconnected youth who were failed by the same cycle of ill-advised education and economic policies.
Prior to the April and May murders, the city of Phoenix Youth and Education Commission assisted with rolling-out President Obama’s initiative “My Brothers’ Keeper.” To their credit the commission launched a leadership conference, surveying 150 students from Phoenix Union High school district about the kind of resources, programs, and activities that would keep them connected to family, school, and future career prospects. The students yielded very useful information. However, a week after, the commission was asked, “How did the goal morph into identifying and conferencing Phoenix Union (PU) teens who were all members of their school’s student governments?” In other words, those PU teens were not the “disconnected” – they were the “well connected.”
Confronted with this constructive criticism, the commission’s reaction was one of angst and frustration. A member stated, “We did attempt to engage the ‘disconnected youths’ but where are they? Who knows where or how to find them?” According to a report by Measure of America, “In the neighborhood of South Phoenix, almost one out of every three youths is not connected to either school or work, while in Paradise Valley, Scottsdale, and Fountain Hills only one in every seventeen is adrift.”
We can reach our disconnected a.k.a. ‘opportunity youth’ where they are most likely to be found; in correctional institutions like Adobe Mountain and Durango Juvenile Detention center. They are in homeless shelters and foster homes.
Disconnected teens hang out at park sites, after hours. Juvenile Probation Officers have many disconnected-youth on their caseloads!
Once the disconnected teens are identified, we cannot immediately push these young people towards what is regarded as a failed educational system. Disconnected youth immediately need direct access to effective community support and life skills training. They need a loving anchor parent and adult mentors. They need first-time job opportunities, which to them in many cases is more important than the idea of going to college.
We can and must turn the tide, Arizona. With the recent passage of Prop. 123, Arizona schools are poised to receive $224 million a year’s worth of payments in June. This can be viewed as a step in the right direction. From where we stand as a state, we can only go up!