The oldest child of four, I grew up in poverty in Seaside, CA. My mother, a single parent, was a waitress at a high end restaurant in 'Carmel By the Sea' called the Hog's Breath Inn. She brought home fancy food in leftover trays to feed us sometimes, but the cuisine was made for richer palates than ours so we labeled it 'gross'. My mom worked the night shift for the dinner and drinks crowd. She made bank in cash tips. Two packs of smokes per day, spontaneous gambling trips, (leaving us at home alone) and drinks at the bar until she couldn't drive home and the bartender had to call a cab, is where she spent her cash. Welfare and food stamps were 'our' money. At age 13, I argued with my mother endlessly about the fair use of her children's welfare dollars because the food and other necessities had to last us a month until the next check came and the cycle would continue. When I think back to when I was younger, I think: How naive was I? I didn't know anything about school except that I should go but didn't want to. I felt stupid. I didn't think I could be smart because I believed that you had to be born that way. I couldn't afford decent clothes so I was embarrassed to attend class when I knew my jeans and shoes had holes or rips. I was teased a lot not just because of my frizzy, fly away hair, but because, as I understand now, kids will be kids. No one expected anything from me outside of home so I had no goal to reach. I had to make sure 3 kids and myself were clean, fed and chores done or else. Eventually, I quit school altogether because I just didn't see the reason for going. I knew nothing about a job or a career. My only mentor was an alcoholic mother who would abuse her kids to relieve the stress of poverty.
This happens every day in America. Some may think because they don't see it, it isn't there. Children need mentors. If they can't find mentorship in their parents, then it's up to society to help. I won't fill your mind with a lot of statistics on poverty, child hunger, child abuse, high school drop- out rates and unemployed or homeless youth in America. What I will tell you is that 1 is too high of a number to me. If we want to be a more competitive country and lift our college graduate success rate, replace homelessness and unemployment with stable, satisfied citizens who not only able to sustain themselves but strive to contribute to a greater community, then we need to step up and help the people who need it the most, beginning with our youth.
Since the late 1800's, early 1900's we have had school attendance laws in every state. In America, every child has to attend school. Kids have to show up or they will be greeted by truant officers. No one can keep their child from an education. We let kids slip out of high school and never return to school taking mediocre minimum wage jobs at best, unemployment at worst. Here is one of our weaknesses, the 'hole in the plan'. To sever the cycle, we need mentorships to help students research and find the right jobs based on their skills and interests to help them succeed in life. Why is attending career counseling optional after taxpayers pay for a public school education from grades k-12? Let's finish the job and ensure there is accountability after an investment of that size.
Every child, at a minimum, MUST graduate high school or we are doing ourselves a disservice down the road. There needs to be a greater push on our kids to go to college, trade school, whatever it is, just find a career. In a world where no one knows what is coming next, have two or more career options. When you combine experiences this way, you become invaluable. Gone are the days of 'she's a nurse, or he's a fireman'. We need multiple career goals today to be competitive. Technology today allows us to accomplish the impossible. Let's use it to our advantage.
A friend of mine from work who I respect greatly for his diverse work experience shared with me how his grand-daughter, 8 years old, is open to learning. Her favorite things to do are to use the I-Pad and she also loves to draw. So much so, that 'grandpa' looked for a program that would allow her to draw on the I-Pad. He ended up finding one and she, with minimal assistance, figured out how to navigate the program on her own! Children are open to learning if they are learning something that they love. We have only to give them the tools that they need to succeed.
We pride ourselves on being the country that says: