A Two-Pronged Education Initiative

Whether conservative or liberal, most people would agree we have a major problem in this country. The problem: Too many children are falling by the wayside.

Through Help Yourself, an after-school effort that brings third-graders to college campuses, we hope to address the problem for those engaged in the program. With "academies" from Massachusetts to Wyoming, Help Yourself is changing the prospects for at-risk children and showing them that college can be part of their future.

Research shows one has three years from when a child starts school before the light begins to go out. Unlike other programs, therefore, like KIPP and Prep for Prep, which do good work but start much later, Help Yourself wants to get to at-risk children before they fall by the wayside by giving them a hands-on, STEM-based curriculum to complement what is taught in school, having college students serve as mentors, and, by siting the program on the college campus, making the children recognize college can be part of their future. It is working, as test data and in-school performance show.

But what about those for whom college is not a realistic option? There are young people, far too many young people, who have been left behind. While college will not be part of their future, they, too, deserve something more than welfare.

With those people in mind, we initiated--or at least we will begin initiating in January--a program for those who are non-high school graduates and unemployed. The plan: Have participants go to school in the morning to obtain a high school degree; give them soft skills training (how does one answer a phone or what does one do if sick and unable to go to work?) that would be obvious to many but is, unfortunately, unknown by some; and hard skills training in the afternoon, such as carpentry. At the end of roughly one year, "graduates" will have a high school degree, important "soft" skills, and usable hard skills. Importantly, graduates will also have a job, since part of the program is guaranteeing graduates a paying position.

Obviously, each of these four pieces--a high school degree, soft skills, hard skills, and employment--are hardly rocket science, and each exists--individually--elsewhere. Just as obviously, as I am learning from those who have heard of the initiative, the combination of these elements does not exist elsewhere, at least not in New York State, where the program is headquartered.

For those who might question the cost of either program, it is miniscule compared to the societal costs of folks "joining" the welfare ranks or, far worse, ending up in prison. Help Yourself costs roughly $15 thousand annually for each class of children, and the costs of WIN (Working in Neighborhoods) are approximately $30 thousand annually to teach and train a class of participants. Juxtapose those costs--which are covered by private funding--to the cost of welfare or of a year in prison (between $50 and $60 thousand in New York) and recognize the prison costs continue for years.

Some things are crystal clear. Among those things are the benefit of investing in children when they are young and in a solid workforce when they are older.

So, whether conservative or liberal, the conclusion is obvious: Invest in young people today or be burdened by welfare and prison costs tomorrow.