Dropouts & Disconnected Youth: Policies & Programs

Panelists: Marion Pines, director of the Sar Levitan Center at Johns Hopkins University; Jaquelene Massey, program manager of the Baltimore City Career Academy; Gary Unfried, principal of Harbor City High School.

Each year, approximately one in 10 Baltimore City high school students withdraws from school before graduation or before completing a Maryland-approved educational program. Lacking the skills and education needed for jobs that pay a decent wage, these young people often are unable to become economically self-sufficient.

Compared to high school graduates and adults with post-secondary education, dropouts and disconnected youth face a higher probability of becoming substance abusers or single parents, and are more likely to fall under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system as inmates or ex-offenders. The phrase “disconnected youth” refers to young people who are both out of school and out of work.

Marion Pines provided an overview of issues facing dropouts and disconnected youth in the Baltimore region. Referring to an August 2001 study prepared by the Sar Levitan Center and Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, Ms. Pines said in 1999 – 2000, approximately 13% of Maryland youth between the ages of 16 and 24 were both out of school and out of work. The largest concentration of such youth was in the Baltimore metropolitan area, with nearly 36,000 young people falling into this category. The percentage of disconnected African-American and Latino youth was much higher than that of disconnected white youth during the same period.

These figures are significant because disconnected youth are much more likely to become involved in anti-social behaviors than their peers who are either in school or working. In 1998, for example, 75% of individuals processed by the Maryland Division of Correction reported themselves as high school dropouts. Additionally, the U.S. Census predicts that Maryland, and the Baltimore region in particular, will see a substantial growth in the populations of African-American and Latino youth over the next decade. Ms. Pines said that policymakers, employers, schools, and workforce and youth development programs should develop strategies to minimize the number and the regional economic impact of disconnected youth.

Jaquelene Massey described the work of the Baltimore City Career Academy (BCCA). An alternative education center directly administered by the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development and the Baltimore City Workforce Investment Board, BCCA provides high school dropouts ages 16-21 with Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED) preparation and employment readiness training. BCCA is a nationally recognized member of the Promising and Effective Practices Network (PEPNET) and is the only non-residential Job Corps site in Maryland.

Each year, BCCA serves between 125 and 175 dropouts from Baltimore City neighborhoods. Approximately 80 percent of students complete their GED training, obtain vocational internships, or make the transition to two- or four-year academic institutions. For the period July 1999 – April 2000, 50 percent of students who were enrolled at BCCA received a GED; 26 percent entered college; and 50 percent obtained paid employment. In addition to its academic programs, the school offers vocational training designed to prepare students for careers in the fields of business technology, health services, landscaping, human services, and information technology.

Gary Unfried described the work of Harbor City High School (HCHS). The only alternative public high school in the U.S. with an honors program, HCHS has graduated more than 4,200 students since it opened in 1976. Located in west Baltimore City, the school serves students from throughout the region, and is funded by the Baltimore City Public School System, Empower Baltimore Management Corporation, and the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. HCHS follows a trimester schedule, providing opportunities for students to enroll beginning in September, December, and March of each year.

The school’s programs, including its GED Achievement program and its Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program, are designed to build students’ self-esteem and self-motivation while helping them fulfill their high school graduation requirements. HCHS seeks to enhance the employability of its students by offering them coursework in business communications, technical education, and a variety of computer applications. Students are also involved in certain administrative decision-making activities, such as the selection of volunteer instructors.

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