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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dear Mr. New Mayor (Whoever You May Be)

Dear Mr. New Mayor,

Contrary to what some believe, we, the parents of Seattle Public Schools and the taxpayers of Seattle, need your office to pay some attention to the state of Seattle Public Schools. I recently read a couple of articles with some real action you and your office can take to help SPS students.

One article is on Crosscut, a local news blog, by former School Board director, Dick Lilly. It is entitled, "Hey Kids: Get a job!" His premise is that we need to find jobs for all high school students who want one. They need the job experience, they need the training and the belief that having (and keeping) a job is something they can achieve.

From the article:

"What happens — and it’s been this way for a long time — is that teenagers in general and particularly high school kids from low-income families don’t have a clue what the world of work is like. Lots of them have never even been inside an office building. Almost none has ever been on a construction job site. Despite their devotion to video games and cell phones, most don’t know what makes the devices work. But most of all, lacking work experiences, teenagers can’t see or imagine their futures. They can’t see that the world has a place for them. They can’t see the opportunity. And often they don’t have the tools to grasp it."

And he's exactly right. The gap between what they know about work and real work is huge. The ability to work with many kinds of people is one bonus of any job (you never really know who you'll be working with until you get there - don't worry, you'll find this out yourself). It is also hugely important to learn how to be on time, dress properly, and, in a service industry job, learn how to keep customers happy.

Mr. Lilly explains that there are some School-to-Work programs but it's only a start.

"Only the mayor can bring the city together to make it happen. The mayor can lead. He can jawbone. He can say this is what we’re going to do: We in Seattle, the businesses, governments, and nonprofit enterprises that are the economic engine of this place are all going to step up and provide every youngster in Seattle public high schools at least one year of part-time work, real work, during their four years of high school. Some of these may be unpaid internships. All should get high school credit for the experience. School officials can figure that out.

This is not going to be easy. It will take about 3,000 part-time positions every year. Businesses will balk. I was in a group convened by the Alliance for Education working on this kind of teen jobs-schools interface back before the dot-com bust. Even in those flush times there was real resistance, not just from worry that students wouldn’t have basic job skills, but from concern they’d be displacing adult workers. Recession will deepen that concern."

Next up, Mr. Mayor, is an editorial from the NY Times called "Home Alone". Here's the premise,

"After-school programs are a cost-effective way to boost student achievement, reduce juvenile crime and help overstressed working parents. Yet a new study finds that the number of after-school slots continues to lag far behind parents’ demand."

The study shows that there is a big increase in the number of children participating in after-school programs. But that the number of children left alone and unsupervised at the end of the regular school day is 15.1M. That's more than a quarter of the nation's schoolchildren (that includes 4% of elementary school students and 30% of middle schools students). That's scary and not Halloween scary.

The House of Representatives has approved a spending bill that adds another $50M for after-school programs. Hopefully, it will be approved by the Senate and the cities will see some of this money.

Yes, it's great if the mayor says the Legislature should fully fund education (they should), that we should pass levies (well, yes, but only if we know that the money is being spent properly) and included in that is the Families and Education levy (thank you, Norm Rice). But do you really want to help?

Help teenagers find some experience in working. Let them see there is more to life than gangs and that there is work is out there for them.

Help parents work less and do their jobs better by setting up more after-school programs for our SPS students.

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