New Mexico is ranked 49th in health, education, and economic well being for children. In overall quality of life for youth, the state comes in last. On a national level, 54% of children don’t attend preschool and 22% of young people don’t graduate from high school on time.
Ok, so the numbers are bleak. What does this information mean, aside from being terribly depressing? The overused but incredibly true cliché comes to mind – young people are the future. Now is the time when the building blocks for tomorrow are laid.
At the press conference, there was some talk of possible solutions. According to Dr. Peter Winograd, the Director of the Center for Education Policy Research at UNM, geographic areas that have fewer after school programs have higher rates of arrests and dropouts. In FY 2012 no state funding was given to these types of programs.
“The first thing we have to do is improve our education opportunities,” said Rep. Rick Miera (D-Albuquerque). “It’s not all about funding sometimes, it is about collaboration. It’s about working together with the county, and the city, to open up those kinds opportunities that we all have to take responsibility for.”
So yes, there are things that elected officials, schools, parents, and teachers need to work on in order to ensure the general welfare of children in the state. But, there is a missing piece in this puzzle: young people. We aren’t only the future, but we are the present. Too often, conversations revolve around us, rather than include us. That’s not to say we should begin to expect 5-year-olds to hold the answers to early childhood development; but it is saying that these issues are our issues.
If the problem is intergenerational, so is the solution. Young people are just that – people; thinking, breathing people with opinions and unique points of view.
If youth are made aware of what a big impact small decisions can make, we would probably see a lot more progress. Eighty percent of brain development takes place by the age of 3; what you learn in your formative years is a good indicator of progress later on in life. Contractors use third grade reading scores to determine how many prisons to build. Graduating from high school increases your life expectancy.
A major step in improving these numbers is sharing this information with young people. Kids count! And so does their involvement.
by: Jonquilyn Hill