America has often been called “the land of opportunity”—a place where hard work and perseverance yield great results. Yet sometimes, certain members of society, including youth, have a hard time accessing opportunity. President Obama wants to change that.
Last year, he launched an initiative to ensure that all youth—especially boys and young men of color—reach their full potential. This initiative, named My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, is an opportunity for all of us to work together, ensuring that every child has opportunities to improve his or her life. I’ve accepted this challenge on behalf of the City of Tucson.
My office has partnered with the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, the Tucson Chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Tucson Urban League on this initiative. The Pima Cradle to Career Partnership, of which I am a member, has implemented a strategy to reach the initiative’s goals.
Some of those goals are: all children enter school cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally prepared; all children read at grade level by third grade; and all young people graduate from high school. Successfully achieving these goals is a community effort, and I am happy to report that progress is being made locally.
“Reading Seed” and “Make Way for Books” are two programs geared toward improving reading levels and early literacy for children in Pima County. Reading Seed uses volunteer reading coaches who work with children to strengthen their reading skills. Make Way for Books provides early literacy programs that get children ready to learn to read. Both programs are extremely effective.
Attendance also helps determine future success in school. My office is working with the Tucson Unified School District on a “Count Me In!” school attendance initiative. Focusing on elementary school students, the program provides incentives for children to meet attendance goals. Students, parents, and teachers track attendance, and prizes are earned when goals are reached.
We’re also working to make sure all students graduate from high school. Last July and this January, I joined community volunteers and TUSD staff for two “Steps to Success Walks”. We visited the homes of recent high school dropouts, and encouraged those students to re-enroll. As a result, 269 students re-enrolled and 17 have already graduated! It helps when kids hear from adults in the community that we care – about them and their success.
Students who don’t finish high school have an impact on our economy. The Arizona Mayor’s Education Roundtable released a report last June that put a dollar figure to these costs. Last year’s 18,000-plus Arizona high school dropouts will produce $7.6 billion less in economic activity over their lifetimes than if they had graduated from high school.
Of course, students can more easily stay on track when parents or loved ones are involved in their lives. Mentors are also helpful, and that’s a role we can all play. Programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs regularly seek volunteers. Social service agencies that work with youth offer more good places to volunteer.
My Brother’s Keeper is a call to action—not only to government leaders and educators, but to everyone. It’s every community’s responsibility to provide youth – all youth – with opportunity, so they can reach their full potential. Working together, we can open doors of opportunity, and help everyone walk through them.