Estes Park Trail Gazette – Expand Opportunity for Our Youth

At the core of our nation is a shared belief that no matter where you are born, your zip code and the socio-economic status of your parents should not predetermine how far you go in life. In the United States, we believe instead that your talents, ambition and work ethic should foster success. Everyone deserves a fair shot at improving their lot in life and reaching for their version of the American Dream.

Unfortunately, for millions of young adults today, that is not the case. Despite some gains in important areas like higher high school graduation rates, an improved employment picture and lower rates of violent crime in many communities, access to upward mobility is severely hampered for many low-income children and young adults in far too many communities across the country.

According to five years of data from the Opportunity Index, which measures 16 key factors that contribute to economic, educational and civic opportunity in communities, 5.5 million U.S. youth ages 16 to 24 are disconnected from work and school and millions more are at risk for such disconnection. In Colorado alone it’s 11.5% (73,892) young adults are currently disconnected.  In Larimer County it’s 7.7% (3,955).  

Nationally, youth unemployment remains in the double-digits, years after the Great Recession officially ended. The talents and potential of many young Americans are sidelined even as employers struggle to fill millions of jobs with skilled workers. Poverty and widening income inequality combined with stagnant wages continue to impede progress for middle and lower income communities.

This is unacceptable. But by working together, across sectors – public, private and nonprofit – and with leaders from all political parties – we can address these problems. We can strengthen education and career pathways for young adults and ensure that the rising generation receives the training and support they need to thrive in their careers, families and neighborhoods.

A cross-sector, bipartisan coalition, Opportunity Nation, has developed a five-part plan to tackle unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment and disconnection: We Got This.

The plan lays out how we can train, hire, graduate and mentor young people in our community as well as offer a second chance to connect to education and career for those coming out in the juvenile or criminal justice system.

Everyone plays an important role. Employers can hire young adults. Schools can offer high quality internship and apprenticeship programs and hands-on learning experiences to students. Nonprofits can partner with community colleges and the private sector to help prepare youth for today’s jobs. Mentors can encourage struggling students to stay in school and pursue postsecondary education and training. Elected officials can pass laws that expand and improve education, skills training and job opportunities for young adults, including those who have had contact with the justice system.

Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center is a full-service not-for-profit educational reform organization that operates a tuition-free, year-round residential high school in Estes Park, Colorado, and offers professional development services at school and community sites around the United States. In short, we’re committed to making high school a more engaging experience for our youth.

Eagle Rock agrees with Opportunity Nation that driving community collaboration to reconnect youth, re-engaging high school dropouts and preparing them for the labor force is critical and can be accomplished. Since 1993, Eagle Rock has been graduating students prepared to make a difference in the world and contributing to improving the high school educational experience across the country for all young people.

One of the key points of the Opportunity Nation shared plan is Ensure more students graduate from high schoolStates should support multiple pathways to high school and postsecondary completion, including: increasing access to dropout recovery programs; dual enrollment programs which enable high school students to earn college credit; flexible scheduling for working and teen parents; and the expansion of hands-on and competency-based learning.

The fact is, every one of us can work together and take concrete steps to ensure young Americans are succeeding in their jobs, schools and communities. Let’s not waste a moment.

We hope you will help us spread the word about We Got This with your friends and networks. Together, we can make sure young Americans get their fair shot at the American Dream.

Dan Condon is an Opportunity Leader for Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan, cross-sector campaign to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America.  He is an educational activist and currently serves as the Associate Director of Professional Development at the Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center, a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative of the American Honda Education Corporation, a nonprofit subsidiary of the American Honda Motor Company.