By Jan Strasfeld and Jeffrey M. GLEBOCKI
The philosopher Aristotle once wrote, “All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.” It is time to take this worldly view and focus our thoughts locally on Youngstown. Are we willing to gamble the fate of our country on the education our children are currently receiving in the public schools? Is the Youngstown community doing enough to prepare our youth to lead us into the future?
To both of these questions, our answer is “no.” Low rates of academic performance, graduation and post-secondary enrollment tell us our children are not receiving the education nor the support they need to one day nurture the growth of society. We all share culpability in this shortfall, whether we are parents, teachers, businesses, civic leaders, voters or others in the community.
Change is happening, though.
Over the past few weeks, you may have observed people around Youngstown reaching out to one another, trying to find commonalities in their views of the public schools, their aspirations for the Youngstown community, and steps that could be taken to address the problems surrounding the education of our youth. Spearheaded by The Raymond John Wean Foundation and The Youngstown Foundation, these conversations validate our residents’ determination to combat the issues facing our community.
The Harwood Institute, a Maryland-based nonprofit that focuses on community engagement, has been retained to direct these efforts and assist with the formulation of a long-term plan. To date, this process has involved numerous one-on-one interviews, 90-minute group conversations with faith leaders, business owners, teachers, students, parents, neighborhood leaders and volunteers as well as “deeper choice conversations” at local Youngstown libraries — all identifying aspirations for the city and the education of youth.
These concepts will be unveiled at a town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Stambaugh Auditorium. At this session, Rich Harwood, founder of the Harwood Institute, along with civic leaders from Youngstown, will delve into the issues that are holding Youngstown back, including feelings of mutual respect between parents and teachers, as well as the shared responsibility we all have in educating today’s youth. The floor will then be opened for discussion as to how we, as a community, can move forward. All are welcome to attend. The resolutions created during the town hall will be presented to the Youngstown City School District and the Academic Distress Commission in August with hopes that this effort will encourage changes in next year’s public-school agenda.
During one of our conversations, a seventh-grade student said, “As a community we don’t get together. Too many parents don’t care. People don’t care, and then complain, but don’t do anything about it! Everyone wants to be the victim; nobody wants to stand up and be a leader.”
If youth can understand our shortcomings, why can’t we?
Jan Strasfeld is executive director of the Youngstown Foundation; Jeffrey M. Glebocki is president of the Raymond John Wean Foundation.