Our country is built on immigrants driven to improve family chances, lives and legacy. My father’s 1930’s high school diploma is three times the size of today’s and is embellished with broad calligraphy. Completing 12th grade in Illinois farm country was rare. My grandfather had a fourth grade education. Grandma had none. They read National Geographic, which lined the perimeter of the sleeping porch. My mother worked at Woolworths during the Depression to pay for college while my father used the GI Bill after serving in WWII to complete his degree.
Most American immigrants felt it was unpatriotic, a wasted opportunity, and a slander to the family if you didn’t grab learning when you could.
Today, it seems every taxi driver, delivery cyclist, and barista I talk to carries the same dream for their children. They put in 16-hour, six-day workweeks, and either brag about kids heading to college or fret that a child is ‘running off course.’
I was one of those ‘off course’ kids. From age 16 to 22 my mind was on hiatus. At the age of 63, I still carry the shame of having a partial, incomplete college education. I had the opportunity, and I wasted it.
Building Better FuturesI could have used someone like Jose Manzano to help me wade through the murky teen years.
Manzano heads up Learning to Work, a new program that launched in January at Goddard Riverside Community Center. It was created to help at risk young people finish high school and perhaps continue their educations, either through certification, learning a trade, or attending college. The ultimate goal, as the name of the program suggests, is for them to become part of the adult workforce.
“My biggest thrill is when I hear from some of my alums,” Manzano said. “I’ll get a call from someone who’s working at J.P. Morgan now. That’s what drives me.”
To get there, some students need to learn about consistency in attendance, and develop a long-term education and career game plan. “In general, the students are struggling,” explained Manzano. “Our team works one on one, we know our students. We are all about building a relationship and following up. We’ll ask things like, ‘We noticed you weren’t here today. How are we going to prevent that?’”
The program offers workshops in college readiness and professional development, as well as field trips to businesses and college campuses. In addition, Manzano, said, students receive guidance in the social and emotional aspects of college and workplace life.
An internship coordinator connects students with potential employers, using a stringent vetting process to ensure a mutually successful experience. Businesses can apply for Learning to Work interns, who are paid through a Department of Education grant, so there’s no cost to the employer.
Real World ExperienceThe response from the business community has been enthusiastic. Loretta Calderon, owner of L.A. Sweets bakery, has had a great experience with Learning to Work interns, including Claurice Reid. “They’ve helped a lot,” she said. “They make cakes, they learn how to frost cakes, and they run the register and take orders. They learn quickly too! And they enjoy learning.”
Liz Alponte interns in a Goddard Riverside office. “Liz has shown willingness to take on projects and learn new skills. She has proven herself as a leader, even checking up on her peers,” said Beth Dunphe, director of development. Trish Anderton, director of public relations, was also happy with Alponte’s performance. “She tackles whatever we throw at her with gusto,” Anderton said, “whether it’s organizing archival materials or improving her photography skills. She brings a positive energy to work and his quickly become a member of the team”
Early on, Dunphe said, Learning to Work’s internship coordinator helped her identify projects that matched Goddard Riverside’s needs with student interests and skill sets. “She has come by for site visits,” Dunphe said, “assisted me in my interactions with the interns, and helped troubleshoot issues. As a supervisor I feel extremely supported.”
Additional ResourcesLearning to Work dovetails with five other Goddard Riverside programs for low-income and first-generation students.
The Options Center supports teens “getting into, paying for, and graduating from college or skill-specific certificate programs.” goddard.org/grcc/programs/ChildrenYouth/options/
The Beacon Program includes a high school component which preps teens for higher education and improving their skills as they approach adulthood. goddard.org/grcc/programs/ChildrenYouth/beacon/
The Options Institute provides a certificate for advisors who work with low income students. goddard.org/grcc/programs/ChildrenYouth/optionsinstitute/
The Star Learning Center offers tutoring for low income students. goddard.org/grcc/programs/ChildrenYouth/star/
The Rise Youth Center is a social opportunity for ages 13 to 24, open year-round with a computer lab, STEM program, athletics, arts, and assistance. goddard.org/grcc/programs/ChildrenYouth/RISE/
And for more information on Learning to Work: goddard.org/grcc/programs/ChildrenYouth/LearningToWork/