An idealistic young man graduated from a fine college and enrolled in the highly selective "Teach for America" program.  A part of the AmeriCorps thrust, Teach for America in its brief existence has compiled an impressive record.  By recruiting bright young scholars, training them, and placing them as teachers in low-performance schools, student test scores are seen to rise significantly, even during the first year the new teachers are in place.

The young man cited above was placed in a city that was known to be a problem area with regard to poor academic performance as well as the city having a high crime rate.  Even with the extensive and intensive training he received, the young man was not prepared to encounter some of the real-world events that shook him.   Students routinely failed to complete or to even attempt working on assignments.  The teacher wondered why he had found school to be important, yet many of his students could not care less about learning.

Many challenges confront our young hero - not the least of which concerns what goes on outside of school hours.  His best student was absent for a week.  Upon investigation, he learned the boy's mother kept him home and was shielding him from the police and a rival gang.  This 14-year old boy is accused of murdering a gang member.   And that boy was his best student!!!

Where have we gone wrong as a nation when young people who are not at all close to the age of accountability (either 18 or 21 years of age) are failing in school and who are getting cross ways with the law?

Perhaps one simplistic answer regarding causation is that by the time young people reach the teen years, if they have no interest in education, they have been failed by parents, family and society.  Not all problems can be solved by developing reading ability early in life, but literacy is one of the critical cogs in the gear train that assures future successes.

The above story is one of the reasons it is thrilling to note that  the Stanwood/Camano Rotary is beginning to participate actively in literacy efforts so that small children can be introduced to books and the value of reading from the first year.  You will hear more of our plans in the coming days and weeks.  It is essential that success must come with appropriate stimulation.  We feel providing books to local children will make a significant difference down the road.

A friend and former college roommate of Dave's ( who is also now a Rotarian in Sacramento) once worked in a center city house of refuge in one of the worst cities for crime and delinquency in America - Gary, Indiana.  Our friend mentioned that he learned that one must have a "philosophy of failure".  He  realized that even his best efforts would fall short in providing the assistance necessary to help people turn their lives around.  This is especially true when the encounter with downcast folks have gone through life without being challenged to develop those skills that contribute to ultimate progress.  To attempt working with older children is fraught with problems and challenges that could have been largely averted if a more preemptive program to assure development of children began early in their lives. 

We are thrilled that a positive approach to literacy efforts will be one of the major emphases of the Stanwood/Camano Rotary.   We expect that our efforts in literacy programs will pay great dividends in the years to come by enhancing the interest and willingness of children to learn thereby assuring a better pattern for success.

Oh, and the young man mentioned in this article?   He is our son, Clinton, who is just completing his first month as a middle school English teacher in Newark, NJ.  He is confronted with many challenges and frustrations as he attempts to infuse his students with the will to learn through helping them sense the future value of present academic effort.

In peace,

JoAnn and Dave

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