Growing up in America poses challenges. The problems are well documented. Too great a percentage of today's youth are "at risk", join gangs, become involved with drugs, fail to put forth sufficient effort to prepare themselves for their own futures, and even commit suicide. The societal costs of these problems are staggering, and they nearly parallel the personal costs to these individuals and their families. As these are among the premier woes of modern-day America, it is imperative that we enlist the greatest possible tools and resources toward a cure.
One of the sources of discontent among today's youth that is often cited is that many of them cannot envision a future in which they are embraced by society and furnished with adequate tools for success. There is a distinct lack of hopefulness and an imposing tide of cynicism about an "establishment" that just doesn't care about them, let alone one that will employ them and otherwise seek their participation. For many youths who join gangs, it is because those are the organizations which actively recruit them and give them a "home".
Schools, in coordination with businesses, have the potential to take a bite out of this problem. It is not enough, however, to wait until kids become 16-year old high school students before reaching out to them. Waiting until such a late stage of the game translates to defeat. Instead, greater attention must be given to six-, seven-, and eight-year olds, so that they grow up believing in their options and their self-worth.
Ideas / Solutions
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, holding an education- and job-fair at elementary schools could go far toward instilling the message at an early age that, if you work hard, and are conscientious about school, then, when the time comes, you, too, will come out on top. Children must have a vivid demonstration of the value of their education, and be shown the light at the end of the tunnel. Students need something to aim for and work toward, particularly if they are to fend off an environment of temptations and short-cuts, many of which are illegal or otherwise destructive of their minds and character.
Having one day each year, even for elementary and middle school / junior high students, during which, in lieu of their normal classes, they focus on business, higher-educational, and career opportunities will provide many with a target that they otherwise might not have. The experience of such an arena, like a convention or expo floorshow, will inspire many of the students. It could be filled with representatives of colleges, trade schools, universities, and vocational education centers, together with employers from a wide range of professions, services, and businesses, both large and small. Such an occasion can demonstrate that these are avenues that will actually be available to them, not just to someone else.
Of course, it may seem to be a difficult task to get many representatives to participate in such a fair, particularly because there would be no immediate return on investment. But many businesses have come to realize that their long-term needs for a skilled workforce, about which so many of them are concerned, begins with a long-term investment. Many others could be convinced to participate on the grounds of community service, particularly if sufficient recognition and publicity of the participants is assured. Participating businesses would make a favorable impression with the students' parents, and that could lead to benefits for the businesses. There would be plenty of goodwill to be had. It could be done with only a minimal time and resource commitment.
Some of the learning institutions could go a step further by providing one- or two-page handouts listing the steps that they would advise a student to follow in order to take advantage of the education they offer. This would leave a student with a checklist or guidepost to follow as they continue to progress through the years.
Some of the businesses could take a similar step by providing a handout illustrating the steps that they would recommend students to follow in order to make themselves desirable employees. A business that was truly dedicated to the effort could go even further by developing a mentoring program. Through the program, students who sign up that day could be invited to visit that business and even return periodically for age-appropriate demonstrations and hands-on workshops in which they could, in a playful setting, experience what it is like to work in that company's line of business. A company could even create a few summer jobs or internships for some of the older students, in which, for a few hours per week, the students could come to their facility and actually experience their job setting.
This certainly is not a cure-all for the problems encountered by today's youth. But it would provide insight, hope, and inspiration for a significant percentage.