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- Social Sciences
Rutgers Center Finding Ways to Keep Urban Youth In School
Center studies a model NJ program, and helps it succeed
In cities like Newark and Paterson, high school graduation rates are nearly 20 percent below the state average of 83 percent.
The Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies at Rutgers-Newark hopes to help change that.
For the past two years, the center has been studying New Jersey’s YouthBuild programs, a highly successful educational model for teens and at-risk young adults that includes both vocational and job training.
But its interest in the program, part of a national non-profit organization, is more than clinical.
The center’s goal is to present evidence to New Jersey policy makers that YouthBuild should be established statewide --there are currently nine sites -- and become part of city school systems, says Roland Anglin, director of the Rutgers center.
“We did a lot of research on young people who are disconnected and found that the longer they’re disconnected, the harder it is to bring them back. It’s about reaching our youth before they engage in criminal activity,’’ Anglin says.
Recommendations like these are part of the center’s mission: helping to resolve urban problems by promoting research and dialogue among scholars, local government and community-based programs.
That’s why, in addition to its research, the Cornwall Center has been working directly with state YouthBuilds to coordinate training assistance with staff and provide the program with valuable data on youth development and crime prevention.“The effort we’re taking is a little bit outside the academic norm,’’ says Anglin. “It’s a different way for universities to play a role in communities by addressing the core mission of an urban state university.’’
At YouthBuild, which includes sites in Paterson, Camden, Trenton and Newark, students participate in a six-month program that offers support on multiple levels, such as counseling and leadership training in addition to vocational skills and academics.
The students learn construction skills and renovate or build homes in their cities, honing a sense of civic duty and expanding residents’ access to affordable housing.
According to the center’s preliminary research, 60 percent of New Jersey’s YouthBuild students remained in school or stayed employed a year after they graduated. The one-year recidivism rate for graduates who had been involved with the juvenile justice system was just 1.5 percent, and the median hourly wage was $8.78, compared to the state minimum wage of $7.25.
“They transformed my mindset,’’ says YouthBuild Newark graduate Shakia Preston, 21, who obtained both her GED and construction certificate and hopes to get an office job. “They taught me how to stay positive and not let the negative stuff bring me down.”
Most YouthBuilds are run with state and federal funds and are community-based. But establishing high schools based on the YouthBuild model would prevent more at-risk youth from dropping out or being incarcerated, Anglin said.
Several studies nationwide offer proof that education and job training are key to reducing recidivism and fostering the economic self-sufficiency of youth who live in poverty. YouthBuild provides a blueprint for how they can succeed, says Roland Anglin, director of the center.
For gang members who enroll in YouthBuild, the results can be especially dramatic. “The gang is replaced by a family called YouthBuild,’’ Anglin says. “They draw kids from across gangs, and when they start to get to know each other, they realize they all want the same thing: a future.”
Staffers at state YouthBuilds say the center’s work have not only strengthened their own programs but will help urban youth throughout New Jersey.
“Just being able to collect consistent information from all the YouthBuilds has been important,” says Mike Gowdy, chief program officer of New Jersey Community Development Corporation, which runs Paterson’s YouthBuild program. “We don’t always have a chance to get together and talk about best practices and share ideas and expertise.”
Robert Clark, executive director of YouthBuild Newark, which last year opened the Newark Leadership Academy in the school district, says the Cornwall Center’s involvement has been a “validation” that YouthBuild can change the way the state works with at risk young people. “The...center has a firm grasp on the issues facing urban communities and has done a fabulous job,’’ Clark says.
Media Contact: Carrie Stetler