Sunday, November 22, 2009

Teen U: Helping teens realize their dreams

One of my biggest pet peeves these days is listening to adults talking about inner-city youth say, "We've got to teach these kids to value education."

Newsflash: Kids value education. They simply don't have the opportunities to get a good education from many of our schools...and they don't know what to do to progress past high school.

Note to adults: Stop trying to teach them to value education and, instead, start providing them with opportunities.

Case in point:
This past Saturday I woke up at 4:00 a.m. so I could drive the van for Teen University's college trip to Prairie View A & M. When I arrived at 5:05 a.m., I only saw one teenager walking toward Teen U. I admit, I was disappointed.

However, my disappointment was completely unwarranted.

As Terrence (Teen U Coordinator) finished up inside the building and walked out, seven teenagers followed right behind him. He told me later that they were at the door waiting for him when he arrived at 5:00 and were trying to tell him he was the one who was late!

The entire trip impressed me! As we went into our first session, the teens introduced themselves to the PVAMU financial aid speakers just as they had been taught at Teen U. As they took the campus tour, the teens stayed right on the heels of the tour guides listening to everything said.

Realities we need to recognize:
One girl in the group was a senior. She only recently got involved with Teen U, but it was very obvious she was serious about being on the trip.

After our first session with financial aid, she began talking to me out of the blue. "I've got a lot of questions, but I don't even know how to ask them," she confided. She mentioned her concern that she wouldn't be able to start college next year. She explained how she would be the first in her family to go to college. She wanted to make sure if she didn't go to college right out of high school we would still help her.

As we drove home, she and I talked about careers and college possibilities. Though she said she wanted to go into the medical field, in talking to her I found she had a lot of interests and wasn't aware of all of the possibilities available to her. She hadn't ever visited colleges beyond the community colleges in Dallas.

Why Teen U exists:
In working with kids and teens over the years, over and over I hear the same thing. Teenagers want to go to college, but don't know how. Teenagers want to be "successful" but have no idea of the possibilities of careers that are open to them.

Props to the staff:
For the first time in my career, I did not play a role in the planning or decision making. All I did was agree to drive. I'm so glad I did. It's obvious that the teens are absolutely amazing because of the staff at Teen U. The Teen U staff and interns are passionate about ensuring the teens have the information and knowledge to make a smooth transition into college.

Teen U has only been in operation for two months and already has a solid group of about 10 students plus about 20 others who show up once or twice a week. As more teens find out, I know Teen U will continue to grow.

Teens know to value education. It's our job to provide them with the opportunity to realize their dreams.

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