Jannelle Martin: Call to Action - Reaching Emerging Adults for Life in South Carolina
For 20 consecutive years the annual Casey B. Anthony KIDS COUNT data has ranked South Carolina among the lowest five states in the nation in the area of child well-being. During this period much effort and many resources at the local and statewide levels have been expended to address this issue, yet our progress has been minimal. More reform is warranted but reform must be data-driven, based on a full understanding of the core causes and what works.
Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to grow strong children than to repair broken men.” In SC so many of our resources are being allocated by necessity to the difficult task of repairing broken people.
The key is in education in which there are three important components in addition to the child: the parent, the school, and the community. Of the three, research strongly indicates the most far-reaching is the child’s parent.
Informed and experienced educators will quickly confirm the biggest early predictor of a child’s success is the level of support and involvement on the part of the parent. The latest annual data from KIDS COUNT regarding the ‘parent component’ of our educational system reveals far too many of our parents are alarmingly ill-prepared.
24% of our children are born to mothers with less than a high school degree;
10% of our newborns are low birth-weight babies, putting them at higher health risks;
45% of our births are to single mothers, increasing the likelihood of the child living in poverty;
20% of our children test “not ready” for school at age 5; a large percent of these never catch up nor graduate;
64% of children living in poverty are never read to by their parent (an activity known to enhance a child’s readiness for school);
35% of students in eighth grade will not graduate from high school four years later; many will drop out completely, adversely affecting personal lives and SC’s economy.
Family life skills are both taught and caught. Most parents love their children and want the best for them, but even some of the most capable and concerned do not have or do not take the time to pass on to their children important skills in the areas of finance and family life. Others have not caught nor been taught the essential skills a parent needs in order to help children reach their full potential. In SC’s contemporary society too much has been left to chance at all socioeconomic levels.
Young adults today seem to have little expertise in financial management skills. The result is poor choices leading to excessive debt, loss of cars and homes, and inability to provide even basic needs. Baron reported that in 2009 the fastest growing age group for bankruptcy filings were 18-24 year-olds.
Our education system must inform and equip all our emerging young adults to become literate and effective citizens and parents. Practical knowledge in addition to academic knowledge is essential.
In response to this urgent need, the advocacy group REAL (Reaching Emerging Adults for Life), was formed. REAL consists of retired and active educators who are proposing to South Carolinians that every high school student be required to successfully complete a comprehensive course in Gateways to Success. The curriculum would cover educationally sound, research-based information and strategies designed to encourage healthy lifestyles and decisions for individuals and families, thus clarifying and enhancing future lives.
A similar elective course has been offered for years in our high schools through the state’s Career and Technical Education Division, but few students elect to take it.
In this current time when budget constraints seem to leave us with few options, we must find a way to begin the process of ‘paying it forward.’ Through student preparation we must move toward turning educationally impoverished homes into educationally sound and hopeful environments that will ultimately lift SC out of the unacceptable bottom ten percent of the nation. The "on hold" enactment of the 2005 Financial Literacy legislation could be delivered efficiently at the high school level through a “Gateways to Success” course.
Former US Education Secretary and SC Governor, Dick Riley, who has for many years been diligent in improving public education, addresses the need for reform. He states that reform is “not just a moral imperative - it is an economic imperative ... and more and more a national security imperative.” He also notes that only 10% of children in poverty will ever rise above that status, asserting that we must create environments that liberate the poor and free them to “focus on endeavors that allow for sustainable growth.”
Requiring a high school course in financial and family literacy using sound universally acknowledged curricula is a necessary and logical step. There are no quick fixes, yet no one can deny that there must indeed be a fix. The proposed fix may not be perfect but it is essential and doable even in today’s economic climate when approached conservatively. Low birth-weight babies alone are costing South Carolinians $163,000,000 a year; many such births would be normal if proper prenatal care steps were followed.
Our educational challenges in SC have always been great; so now are our opportunities. Strong leadership action taken carefully and wisely at this point in our history could have a profound positive effect on the future well-being of our state’s emerging young adults.