Youth Foundation Helps School Disadvantaged

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Barnes

This is the first of a new feature that publicizes the words and works of good people in our community. Their voices are seldom heard in the torrent of sensational news; their successes are seldom noticed publicly, but they contribute mightily to our quality of life. We present this forum at least twice a month to recognize and support their good deeds.

Denise Barnes interviewed Philip McGovern, president of the Youth Leadership Foundation.

Question: What is the Youth Leadership Foundation?

Answer: We are a faith-based initiative that has been working in the D.C. area for the past eight years. We were started by members of the traditional Catholic organization Opus Dei as a service to the Washington community to help economically disadvantaged youth.

We offer supplemental educational programs for seventh- to 12th-grade students who are academically average - the forgotten child. These are children who desperately need our help.

The average middle school student living in the District begins high school unprepared and has only a mediocre chance of graduating. Per the D.C. public school system in the year 2000, 58 percent of its seventh- and eighth-graders could not perform at grade levels on standardized tests.

Today, we offer two summer programs: the Tenley Achievement Program [TAP] for boys and the Program for Academic and Leadership Skills [PALS] for girls, which are held on the campuses of Catholic University and George Washington University, respectively. Our programs are offered to boys and girls regardless of race, color or religious affiliation. Our educational programs do not end once the school year begins - we also offer Saturday morning academic and character building classes on a smaller scale.

There are terrific resources being devoted to the most troubled youth with drug counseling, literacy and gang-prevention programs. There are also terrific programs for the best and the brightest students. Our program is focused on the average child, believing they offer promise for great success.

Q: How do you define an average student?

A: The average student is one who is neither failing nor excelling and is therefore often neglected. They are not offered the financial resources that they need. Look at the statistics for the District. The high school dropout rate remains one of the highest in the country. One out of three students never finishes high school. Between the troubled youth and the best and the brightest is the average child who holds tremendous promise. The average student is the largest group in this disadvantaged segment. So, if you make an impact with them, you're going to have a significant return. Develop the average child and you make the difference between a shop worker and an engineer, between a secretary and a business executive.

The other important element about this group is their enthusiasm. The children respond to the attention they are being paid, and parents are enthusiastic and grateful.

Q: How important is parental participation in TAP and PALS?

A: Parents are key in the development of their children, so we encourage parent participation with parent seminars and discussions with their child's counselor over the course of the six-week summer program. The boys' program and the girls' program each have parent associations, and they meet regularly to talk about issues that are relevant to the formation of their child's character and academic future. We get important input from the parents to determine what their children need to succeed.

Q: What makes this program unique?

A: Our purpose is to develop leaders with a keen sense of responsibility to their communities. This is what we desperately need - community leaders and role models with a spirit of service.

Today's culture is self-absorbed. We as a society seem to be focused on acquiring material possessions. …