Nurturing Needy Youth Through America’s Promise

by COLIN L. POWELL


Astudent asks, "How can I deal with English and algebra if I’m tired, hungry and scared?"

We can’t expect America’s educators to answer that question by themselves. Even the most dedicated teachers and principals can’t begin to act as surrogate parents or guardians to the scores of youngsters in their charge. Keeping our children safe, healthy, disciplined and ready for English and algebra is the job of the whole community, not just the schools.

When I was growing up in the South Bronx, I wasn’t rich--at least, not in a material sense--but I had the matchless blessing of being reared by two devoted parents, backed by a platoon of doting aunts and uncles, who gave me the love, discipline and motivation I needed to be successful as an adult. And there were other caring adults in my community: neighbors, clergy, the small business owner who gave me my first job and other mentors and role models who helped keep me on track and off the streets.

Accessing Resources
Too many of today’s youngsters are not getting the same kind of careful nurturing in their formative years that I and most Americans once took for granted. Too many young people are being lost to child abuse, drug addiction, street violence, and other social pathologies of our day. Too many are having children while they are yet children themselves. Too many are dropping out of school and growing up unequipped for any kind of life other than dependency or crime. If we are going to have a civil and caring society in this country, we must start by reclaiming the young people who are most at risk.

It was for this purpose that the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future was convened in Philadelphia in April 1997. For three days some of the nation’s most illustrious leaders--including 30 governors, a hundred mayors and scores of business executives, government officials, heads of volunteer organizations and other community activists--joined together in a commitment to youth endorsed by every living U.S. president and first lady. The result was America’s Promise--The Alliance for Youth.

America’s Promise is a national campaign, which I chair, whose mission is to provide at least two million youngsters by the end of the year 2000 with access to the five resources they need to grow up into strong, capable and contributing members of society. These five resources are:

  • An ongoing relationship with a caring adult or mentor;

  • Safe places and structured activities during non-school hours to learn and grow;

  • A healthy start and a healthy future;

  • A marketable skill through effective education; and

  • An opportunity to give back through community service.

    To put these five resources within reach of the youngsters who need them, America’s Promise has secured hundreds of commitments--from federal agencies, state and local governments, corporations, non-profits, service organizations, communities of faith and individual volunteers. But obtaining commitments--in the form of financial grants, computers, equipment, playgrounds, volunteer tutors, and other things kids need--is not enough. To make them available to the youngsters who need them, we have to go to where those youngsters are. That means partnering with the schools.

    Accordingly, America’s Promise has joined forces with the American Association of School Administrators, Communities In Schools, Quest International and a raft of other professional, educational and youth-service organizations to form America’s Promise in Schools.

  • Committing to Help
    America’s Promise can enhance the effectiveness of these organizations through the publicity, commitments and increased public interest we have been generating since the summit in Philadelphia. Working together, we can connect more youngsters with the basic resources they need for success in life so that when they show up for school every day, they are healthy, confident and eager to learn. Our goal is to create 4,000 Schools of Promise by the year 2000. A School of Promise is a school that has committed to work with us in providing the five resources to their students.

    At the AASA National Conference on Education in San Diego in February, CIS President Bill Milliken and I appeared via satellite and announced the creation of our first School of Promise--MacFarland Middle School in Washington, D.C. We explained what America’s Promise is all about and invited all conference attendees to join us in our efforts. More than 300 school superintendents responded to our call and signed pledge cards welcoming America’s Promise into their schools.

    We are off to a great start, but we have a long way to go to reach our goal of 4,000 schools by the year 2000. Along the way, we are going to be recognizing outstanding schools and school administrators who are helping to bring the five resources within reach of their students. I urge you to become one of them by joining with us today.

    By working together, we can help ensure that all students are ready for English and algebra when they show up for school. We can equip them to take their placed in the "knowledge-based" economy of the future. We can set them on the road to satisfying and productive adult lives.

    Colin Powell, a retired Army general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chairs America’s Promise, 909 N. Washington St., Suite 400, Alexandria, Va. 22314-1556. For details about the program, contact Karen Moore at the same address or call 703-684-4500. The organization’s Web site address is www.americaspromise.org.