2012-05-18 / Columnists

New Kid On The Boardwalk

Commentary By Jack Lund, Arverne By The Sea Y

In this year’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama made the bold proposition “that every state should require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.” As America vies to maintain a leadership role in the new economy, it is more important than ever for the next generation of young people to pursue higher education.

A solid high school education gives young people a firm foundation in life, much like the completed concrete walls and foundation of the lower level of the new Rockaways Y provide physical strength and support for the structure. As the building continues to take shape, wewantedtointroduceyoutoaYprogram that helps young people be successful in high school and go on to college.

New York City has made significant strides in improving the high school graduation rate to an all-time high of 65.1 percent, but there are still many young people who need extra support to graduate from high school and get the right footing on the road to college.

Next month New York City’s YMCA will graduate its first class of Y Scholars — a group of exceptional young people who have for consecutive years worked with Y staff toward achieving the goal of graduating from high school and moving onto college.

Since its pilot year, Y Scholars has grown from serving 100 students at three schools to becoming a citywide program that serves more than 650 students at 14 public middle and high schools across all five boroughs. We are proud to say that in June, fully 100 percent of the first Y Scholars graduating class will earn a high school diploma and begin their college careers.

If you ask one of our graduating Y Scholars how the program has helped him or her, the answer you’ll hear will likely be more than just getting reminders about filling out forms and meeting deadlines. You’ll hear stories about how students working with their Y counselor has provided them with the emotional strength and social skill set to succeed in life. You’ll hear how they have learned how to work in groups, advocate for themselves, negotiate, understand complex issues, and emerge as leaders among their peers.

The Y Scholars program is helping a generation of young people know who they are, what they want to be, and how to get there. It’s a program where learning to actualize oneself, and building and maintaining strong relationships, is just as important as getting the right answer on a test. And it’s a program that stays for the duration. Y Scholars enter the program as middle schoolers in seventh grade and work with staff until they graduate from high school.

Seven years is a big commitment to make to anything. But that’s exactly the kind of commitment needed to help turn around our City’s high school graduation rates. And if the Y feels a special passion for this cause it is because the graduation rate is markedly worse in the communities that the Y traditionally serves. In 2010, only 58 percent of Hispanic students and 61 percent of black students graduated high school, compared with 78 percent of white students. Even among those youth who do graduate from high school, the majority find they lack the social skills and work habits needed to thrive in college.

As part of our solution to increase college access and readiness, this year we will pilot and expand a new Y Schools program model, which establishes a full-time YMCA presence in its partner schools.

BeyondthepresenceofaYAfterschool Academy, Y Schools will bring YMCA services and programs to schools from the opening bell to day’s end that develop the whole child, with low-performing schools to be given the highest priority. By 2014, Y Schools will operate in 10 schools and serve more than 10,000 children.

A seven-year program might sound like a long time, and daily sun-up to sun-down engagement might seem to be an extravagant commitment.

Like so much else in life, however, college readiness isn’t a destination, but a journey. College preparedness isn’t something that can be crammed for like an exam, accomplished in a week, or torn from the pages of a book. Rather, college preparedness is a long-term academic, emotional, and social commitment a young person makes to himself or herself, and the Y is there to hold that young person’s hand every step of the way.

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