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YOUNGSTOWN For city's at-risk students, Project Youth pays off



Published: Sat, January 19, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A student can earn up to $1,400 over two years for meeting a series of goals.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Six months ago, Charlene Pittman's shyness stopped her from meeting new people and making new friends, not to mention sitting down for an interview with a newspaper reporter.

Today, after a half year in Project Youth, Pittman has all kinds of friends from all sides of town, and talking to a reporter is no sweat.

"I used to be all to myself," said Pittman, 18, a senior at Chaney High School. "Now, I'm more involved. This has really helped me communicate with people better."

Pittman is the student leader of Project Youth, a program in its second year that's aimed at bringing 120 students from around the city together, improving their school grades and getting them jobs.

What program does: The project gives students from the city's three high schools and Choffin Career & amp; Technical Center the means, as well as cash bonuses, to participate in community service projects, pass proficiency tests and graduate on time.

"To get into the program, you have to be an at-risk kid," said Tim Brown, youth program manager for Mahoning Columbiana Training Association, which runs the federally-funded project.

"You can't be the top 10 percent. Really, we're looking at the bottom 10 percent. Most of our kids have very difficult attendance problems and grade problems."

Fifteen seniors and 15 juniors at each of the schools participate in the project, and each school has an advisor to oversee the group.

In the summer, MCTA gets students jobs paying $6 an hour. During the school year, students meet monthly at their schools to work on community service projects and leadership activities, Brown said. MCTA also offers remediation programs for students studying for the proficiency tests.

Earning money: Students are paid for completing various tasks. For instance, a student passing his ninth-grade proficiency tests while in the program receives $200, Brown said. Students also get $200 for graduating, Pittman said. In all, a student can earn up to $1,400 over two years, Brown said.

"Since we're working with kids who aren't very highly motivated, we use [money] as a motivating tool," Brown said.

Pittman, who plans to attend Youngstown State University and then medical school, said the money has helped her pay for her senior pictures and senior dues at school.

Working together: Twice a year, all 120 students in the project get together to work on a group community service project. The group met last month at the Buckeye Elks in Youngstown.

Brown and Pittman said the project also has helped bring students from different sides of the city together. That is particularly important given the school district's plans to shuffle high school students in the next three to five years.

The district will convert The Rayen School on the North Side and Woodrow Wilson High School on the South Side into middle schools and build a new high school on the East Side. That will leave two high schools, the new East Side school and Chaney on the West Side.

"The city and the neighborhoods are fairly well-divided up and we want the kids to work to get ready to be in school together -- North, South, East and West," Brown said.

"We're trying to help the kids mold together like a melting pot," Pittman said. "So, when we're all together, there's no conflict."




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