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Program gets kids READY for life after schooling

Updated: May 22, 2013 6:19AM



Growing up as I did in an inner city can be isolating. For a long time, in fact, I did not know there were cows, or that there are many religions. I did not know that highways cross our nation, that there were people who lived beyond the end of the bus line, and that there were many opportunities for me and others who worked toward desired goals.

Because of this experience, I am able to understand the challenges of trying to inspire “bigger thinking” among our young people who lack understanding of the possibilities available to them.

On the other side of the coin, there are many of us for whom limitless opportunity has always been available — a situation that can sometimes limit our engagement with fellow citizens for whom economic options are minimal.

Thus, we are challenged to help people understand there are “different worlds” within our region. Acknowledging this, and, most importantly, acting on it can build better communities and a richer Northwest Indiana for everyone.

That expressed, these are the best of times and these are the worst of times for education in Northwest Indiana. The region is in turmoil in most urban areas with failing schools and poor graduation rates. More suburban areas provide stronger schools, better graduation rates and students continuing their education beyond K-12.

The challenge for Northwest Indiana is to create a brighter future for all children. We are too frequently reminded of those factors that can impede the progress of our next generation. Are these challenges too big to overcome? It is essential that we, the citizens of the region, contribute to economic viability by ensuring our young people are job ready, life ready and college ready. Recognizing that not all youths will complete high school, or will not complete high school readied for work, life and college, we must consider ways in which those who choose to work directly after a K-12 experience have the necessary skills to find a job and develop a profession.

Too often, when we consider “job ready,” we tend to think of a specific set of work skills. Yet, employers tell us a skill set in and of itself may not be enough. To compete, our young people must have reading and math skills to successfully do the job.

Everyone also needs life skills. To get that first job or to go on to college, our young people must know how to present themselves as viable candidates. It is not possible to get a job if one does not know how to ask for one and convey a level of expertise and respect that warrants earning the position. Related, writing an entrance essay is equally important for college-bound individuals to demonstrate self-expression ability.

A life skill adults sometime take for granted is being on time and ready to engage. Yet, many youth frequently are not punctual and may even choose not to show up. Most troubling, an overwhelming number of employers tell me that finding young people to work who can pass a drug test can be a true challenge. Our youth must learn that the life skill of being drug free is vitally important.

Northwest Indiana’s Regional Education/Employer Alliance for Developing Youth (READY) initiative focuses on maximizing high school student readiness for further education and jobs with region employers. READY helps students complete K-12 without remediation and with college credit. It prepares them for careers and aligns skills of graduates with regional needs. READY is a strong alliance that can help equip our youth to shape a stronger region.

Given the results of our Indicators Report on Education, Northwest Indiana has kept a steady state. However, a steady state is not necessarily good enough. Some areas are in need of more comprehensive programs like READY to propel our youth out of poverty and on to economic success for themselves and the region.

Our challenge is to understand that although each of us brings unique backgrounds and experiences that shape our communities, we all benefit from the success of other individuals. It is not good enough to advance our own life successfully and ignore those who have not had the same opportunities to succeed.

Investing our time and treasure in ensuring our young people have skills to succeed means a better quality of life for all of us in the region.



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