To the Editor,
Recent discussion about spending public funds to support a youth boxing program offers the latest example of why Norwalk continues to fail our young people. With the best of intentions, sincere, caring adults create program after program that they think, they hope, will keep youth engaged in positive ways, especially when they are not in school.
But a patchwork of programs is not what our community needs. Elected officials, policymakers, and funders need to decide whether they want to continue to be part of the problem or part of the solution. While the Common Council debates the merits of allocating block grant funds and the BET works on the budget, Norwalk ACTS — a partnership of community agencies, organizations, and individuals — engages in strategic planning, using data to identify and prioritize young people’s academic, social-emotional, and physical needs.
Here are three reasons why we continue to fail our young people and a few suggestions for what we could do differently:
1. There is a major disconnect between the planners and the decision-makers. In practical terms, shouldn’t the Redevelopment Agency, which oversees the block grant program, and the Common Council members who decide who gets funding invite Norwalk ACTS partners to the table?
2. Too few organizations, individuals and agencies know how to effectively partner. While it is harder to develop and run programs with others, the benefits in terms of cost-effectiveness and quality definitely outweigh the challenges. What does this mean? Elected officials should make collaboration a priority. Everyone can play a role in closing the achievement gap. This is why the school system should have a voice (not just a sign-off on a grant) in most if not all publicly funded youth programs, regardless of where and when they take place. At the very least young people would see that the adults in their lives are talking to each other and that what happens outside school matters in school.
3. Too many adults lead with their hearts, not with their heads. Elected officials and policymakers continue to support programs with no measurable results other than making us feel good. Accountability needs to move beyond simply counting how many young people from the target population participate in a program, to measuring impact on academic, social-emotional, and physical well being. Solid data, good research and strategic planning can help.
Young people know best that business as usual isn’t working. It’s not rocket science but it will take political courage to get it right. Can well-intentioned adults put aside self-interest and let heads lead hearts in the right direction?
Susan Wallerstein, Ph.D
Dr. Susan Wallerstein is a retired education professional who is active in Norwalk community affairs.