Leading the Way

Sep 29, 2017 by

Tom Watkins –

Nothing is more important to our collective future than assuring our children, especially the children of Detroit, have a shot at success.

Far too many of our children in Detroit have been living with the school choice experiment. A major problem is they have mainly had lousy choices to choose. The State takeover of Detroit schools over the better part of a decade turned out to be a dismal failure by any measure.

Mayor Mike Duggan visiting a group of “Grow Detroit’s Young Talent” students who worked at JA this summer

We know that a child who is not educated today will be an adult without much of a future tomorrow.

Gone are the days one could drop out of school and have a ticket to a middle-class job in factory or even join the military providing a pathway to success.

Today, we are living in a hyper-competitive, disruptive, technology-driven, knowledge economy where ideas and jobs can and do move around the world effortlessly.

Our schools, traditional public and charter (nearly 50 percent of Detroit children attend a charter school) are struggling (both suburban and urban) to educate our kids to world class standards.

We know that children raised in poverty, in many cases generational poverty, with other adverse conditions have an extraordinary burden to bear to catch up with and stay even with their peers without such societal burdens.

Public school budgets have been strained because of declining enrollments and inadequate investment for multiple years.

Often the human service support personnel (counselors, social workers, nurses) are the first to be cut with declining revenue. These are the very services we need to wrap around our children that start life behind and struggle to keep up.

Junior Achievement Steps Up

There are efforts underway across the state to lift our schools, teachers and most important, our children. I am extremely impressed by Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent of the newly established Detroit Public Schools Community District. I have never been as optimistic about the future of Detroit. Dr. Vitti is the leader our children need and deserve.

His goal must be to keep the focus on TLC- teaching, learning and children and not let it devolve once again into  a struggle centered around power, control, politics, and adults.

Yet, Dr. Vitti is the first to admit, he and his team cannot do it alone. They need all of us to roll up our sleeves to help the children of Detroit find a pathway to success.

What are we doing to assure more and more of our youth can cross the finish line of success?

While there are many pathways to success and many individuals striving to create new paths one program that marries knowledge, business principles, and entrepreneurship to empower youth is Junior Achievement.

Margaret Trimer-Hartley, President, JA of Southeastern Michigan

“Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan is led by a dynamo of energy and passion to give all our children hope, inspiration, and a path to success.” –Margaret Trimer-Hartley, its president

JA’s mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.

JA of Southeastern Michigan is based in Detroit. Chartered in 1949, the non-profit will reach about 60,000 students in 10 counties from Monroe to Genesee and Washtenaw to St. Clair this year.

JA teaches students from kindergarten to college the business and life skills that schools and families struggle to impart —how to manage money, how to think and be entrepreneurial, and how to prepare for the world of work.

JA’s programs are all experiential and employ real world concepts and community members. They are designed to build self-efficacy and move youth from “I can’t” to “I can.”

This summer, JA worked with 14 students from Detroit’s youth workforce development initiative known as Grow Detroit’s Young Talent. Those students were paid by the city to spend six weeks at JA learning how to run a business by doing just that. They created the Global Green company and developed a composting bag that can be used to capture food waste for community composting.

Nathan Rushing, 19, of Detroit said the experience at JA this summer gave him the confidence to sell himself.

“I realized that I need to start believing in myself,” he said. “No matter what field I end up going into, the skills that I have learned here will help me in any aspect of my life. I loved being able to meet with real business people to hear about their struggles and successes.”

Businesses see the value of JA and invest in the organization to ensure that the next generation is prepared to participate fully in the economy, and to ensure that they have a qualified and motivated workforce.

The surest way to create an inclusive economy is the pass on the skills and the business savvy needed to take advantage of opportunities. JA is delivered to students by an army of 3,000 community volunteers who go into the schools, host students in their workplaces, and reach out to support JA sponsored field trips around the region.

JA is making a difference by augmenting the formal educational experience and helping to create future entrepreneurs and leaders in all sectors of the economy. Almost 70 percent of adults who went through a JA program say they chose their career path because of someone they met in JA.

Policymakers Take Note

Policymakers under the Capitol Dome need to understand the importance of assuring our children have a shot at success. We have witnessed the human waste and loss of human potential associated with educational failure. This failure impacts not only the individual without an education – it impacts us all.

There is a synergy and alignment taking place in Detroit both within and without the formal walls of “school” that bodes well for our collective future.

JA is leading the way.

Tom Watkins is a former Michigan state superintendent of schools and president and CEO of the economic council of Palm Beach County, FL. He is president and CEO of TDW and Associates and consulting firm here and in China. He can be emailed at: tdwatkins88@gmail.com, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88

Source: Leading the Way

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