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Your View by Allentown council candidate: How a Youth Service Corps would help the city

In light of the recent shootings in Allentown, local leaders, residents, stakeholders and community partners should look inward, not outward, for solutions. Across the United States, America’s cities are beginning to fill the voids in leadership, stepping up to remedy significant social, educational and economic inequities.From climate change to housing affordability, our cities have proven they possess the ingenuity and audacity to implement ambitious policy proposals. It’s time for Allentown to embrace and contribute to the trend of city-oriented solutions, particularly in addressing the violence that has recently shaken our community.We can start with a Youth Service Corps designed for adolescents and young adults. Allentown can be an innovator in teaching life skills, preparing them for future employment and, in turn, reducing crime and other negative social behaviors.Josh Siegel (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/)Hartford, Connecticut has recently experimented with such a program to remarkable success. In three years, the program has served 750 youth, with about a quarter being children or adolescents who have had encounters with the criminal justice system. Roughly 75% of program participants were promoted to the next grade level, almost 80% of out-of-school youth without a diploma reengaged in high school, and almost half of those who had already graduated went on to pursue some form of post-secondary education.Among these youth, only 24% were rearrested and 11% reconvicted, compared with a state average of rearrests and reconvictions of 79% and 69%, respectively.Allentown could expand on this program by ensuring cradle-to-career pipelines, identifying at-risk youth early, and providing them with a comprehensive and intensive development plan.That means taking a data-driven approach that utilizes factors such as poverty, home situationand trauma to ensure those most in danger of falling behind get a helping hand.The Youth Service Corps should also begin mentoring and offering opportunities to younger children to provide a structured and safe environment and create a seamless transition from early education all the way through to graduation. It would be wise to place an emphasis on civic engagement, leadership and soft skills such as communication, teamwork and conflict resolution.Finally, Allentown should join the multitude of world-class cities around the nation offering universal pre-K education to their 3- and 4-year-olds. This endeavor constitutes one of the most significant long-term investments Allentown could make, ensuring that our youngest residents are placed on a path to success right away.Pre-K education represents one of the few investments that has such clear and incontrovertible short- and long-term benefits. The Early Learning Investment Coalition found that those who participated in high-quality pre-K programs were 48% less likely to be held back and 51% less likely to require special education, a growing cost for the school district. It has also proven to lead to higher earnings and reduced likelihood of committing crimes.The initial cost estimate is about $6 million, but consider that, on average, return on investment for pre-K programs ranges from $4-$12 per dollar invested. (For reference, you would get less if you invested in the stock market.)Allentown should consider a referendum asking voters to start the process of identifying funding sources and discerning how to best implement these programs.To be clear, the city shouldn’t have to be alone in making this investment. We’re privileged to have anchor institutions with great resources and strong commitments to improving their communities. We’re home to Fortune 500 companies that mutually benefit from helping finance these investments, and we have a strong philanthropic community. There’s already a rich community of nonprofits engaged in similar work that can amplify our efforts.Funding could also function on a sliding-scale fee, making it accessible but also sustainable.It is nothing short of good corporate responsibility for these entities to engage in these transformative investments, and it’s neither unreasonable nor unrealistic for leaders to ask them to.By working together to invest in the youth of our city, Allentown’s anchor institutions, companies and nonprofits have the unique ability to lift residents out of poverty, create opportunity for our children and elevate us all to new heights.Joshua Siegel is a Democrat running for Allentown City Council and a Democratic state committeeman in Lehigh County. He’s a volunteer speech and debate coach for Phillipsburg High School.
Source: Morningcall

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