Summer jobs program lacks males

Summer jobs program lacks males

CHAMPAIGN — A joint city and school district program that finds summer jobs for Champaign students is having trouble attracting boys — particularly black males — who meet the program's requirements.

For four years now, the summer youth employment program has generated a lot of feel-good stories: This past summer, 147 high school students who might otherwise have had trouble finding work were paired with employers who guided them through the rigors of their first jobs.

They earned a paycheck and learned the value of hard work, officials say. Now they have a resume, experience and leads on jobs in the future.

"The program offers youths the chance to go out and participate in the betterment of our community," said Prisca Lumbu, a Centennial High School junior who participated this summer. "Also, we learn the real value of money and the correct way of acquiring it."

Bailey Bui worked in state Sen. Michael Frerichs' office this summer. She said she learned how to dress, speak and behave in a professional setting — a crucial experience she might not have had in the classroom.

"In a school environment, there's a lot of support from peers and teachers, but working in the real world requires the person to initiate leadership and take responsibility for their work," she said.

City council members and school officials tout the program highly — it has provided 588 jobs for students in the four years since its inception, and a lot of them found jobs with the employers they were paired with even after the program concluded at the end of each summer. A handful of participants have been in the program every summer they were in high school.

It gives students a grasp on professional skills that "none of us know when we first start out, when we go get our first job," said city council member Marci Dodds. "Somebody has to teach us this."

The city and school district split the lion's share of the cost of the program — each agency pays $75,000 each, much of which goes toward paying students for the 12,247 hours they worked.

The City of Champaign Township kicked in another $15,000 this year, and the program picked up donations from Busey Bank, Merry Ann's Diner and some individual donors. The program cost nearly $200,000 this year.

"I think that it's a relatively low-cost way of teaching incredibly important and valuable skills to students who might not otherwise get them," Dodds said.

Mayor Don Gerard said the program has become a core piece of the city's budget.

"I think this program, really, I feel has become an indispensable component of how we address the needs of our community with regard to developing our youth, preparing them for the workforce, getting them on the right track and doing everything we can to balance the playing field and give them an opportunity to achieve the American dream," Gerard said.

But four years into the program, girls who are accepted outnumber boys by more than 2-to-1, and participation among black males has dropped by more than 66 percent since the first year of the program.

And it's not that the boys don't want in: 54 students were denied entry into the program this past summer for a number of reasons. Program coordinator Suzanne Meislahn said the primary reasons why some black male students did not make the cut were discipline issues (applicants cannot have more than two full days of suspensions in a single year) and inadequate grades.

The requirements are not about to change because the program isn't about targeting a single group, Meislahn said. Instead, she wants its demographics to reflect the free- and reduced-lunch population of the Champaign school district, which are the students it was set up for in the first place.

Beyond the grade point average, attendance and behavioral requirements, the first prerequisite for the program is that the students have to qualify for those free- and reduced-price lunch options at school. That qualifier ensures that the students who enter into the program come from lower-income families.

"We need to have all of our participants match or better mirror the free- or reduced-lunch population of Champaign schools," Meislahn said.

Program coordinators are concerned about the black male demographic, she said, "but the better truth is we need to better represent all the demographics."

"Of course, it's concerning," Dodds said. "I think it's concerning to lots of people, particularly the people who are running the program."

That said, Dodds has "pretty good faith that they will keep working with the students."

One of the changes to the program next year is that its coordinators plan to stay in touch and check in with the participants throughout the school year to ensure they are internalizing the values they learned during the summer.

"We need to work more on student accountability," Meislahn said. "We need to carry that financial oversight piece a little further. More savings, not just save for the summer and then deplete the entire savings account once the program is over."

Council member Will Kyles thinks having someone work with applicants who were denied entry into the program might help, too.

"You're having a regular interaction with those kids that aren't necessarily making the cut but want to make the cut," Kyles said. "I think adding that component is definitely going to help improve that success rate."

Organizers want to encourage more employer contributions to the program. This summer, 73 employers took students on as workers at no cost to the employer. Their wages are paid instead through the program budget.

In its earlier years, city officials wanted to encourage more donations and have the program become self-sustaining rather than driven by tax dollars. That has not happened yet, and it is something organizers intend to focus on more.

"We were hoping when this program began that we would have a sustainability component to it," Foster said, "by those employers either helping to finance the employee who comes to their business or to have more private donations."

But city officials are not complaining about the expense in the meantime.

"As a targeted effort of public expenditure for social good, this is probably one of the best things we've ever done," said city council member Michael La Due.

Even with all the positive stories that emerge from the program, he contends that the city has not yet seen its full effect: It's still a young program, he said, and the "lives it's touched and affected are still evolving."

"There are ripples to this program and in the lives of the participants and all the lives that they touch that are very difficult to measure, but nevertheless most assuredly real," he said.

Reasons for not making the cut

Of the 54 students denied entry into the 2014 program, here are the reasons:

Reason Number Percent
Grades too low 18 33.33
Didn’t meet lunch req’s 12 22.22
Discipline issues 11 20.37
Too young 5 9.26
Poor attendance 4 7.4
Residency 1 1.85
Multiple 3 5.56
A look at the participants
Male participation, particularly among black males, has dropped significantly since the first years of the city and school district’s summer youth employment program. Among the leading causes: Students did not meet grade point average or behavioral criteria.
  2011 2012 2013 2014
Male 85 66 44 47
Female 76 84 86 100
Black male 80 53 32 27
Black female 70 72 72 85

Source: Champaign school district



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aantulov wrote on December 07, 2015 at 6:12 am

This program seems more about padding budgets of recipent companies at the property tax payers expense than making an impact on the community. One must prove they dont require help in order to qualify. Or that their parents are politcaly savvy. Thats what school administrators have been fired for. Its an artificial success. Its the young men who have started a family that need help. THAT pay check would go to a child, a family, an oz of prevention against a prison sentence. A young adminstrator candidate is about power. If you are asking for a perfect candidate that is not giving to the community, that's conducting business. This program needs to be reviewed with unwed moms in the room.