Job hunting is tough. Most people do not have the luxury of waiting for the perfect opportunity to present itself. It’s a scramble for many of us and in the COVID-19 world it’s even more difficult. Employers almost always require experience and at minimum a High School diploma or equivalent. For many young New Yorkers the need to help support their family outweighs the need to spend time on an unpaid internship. That means experience is hard to come by. That’s where the Learning to Work program, endearingly known as LTW, comes in.
Each day more than 17,000 Young adults across New York City who have had a hard time finishing high school in the traditional sense find their way to success in transfer high schools and Young Adult Borough Centers. The LTW program provides these young people with an alternative pathway to a high school diploma while at the same time giving them a chance to work in a paid internship so they can explore interests and earn a paycheck.
The Learning to Work program has helped prevent a drop-out crisis in New York City. Since its inception LTW has helped more than 15,000 New Yorkers earn a diploma and right now the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Education is mulling over a severe cut to funding to LTW hyper link one too.
The main goal of Learning to Work is to re-engage students who have fallen out of place with their educational journey. The program achieves its goal through real world experience and lesson structures that capture the students creativity. The beauty of the LTW program is that students are able to explore many different options and figure out what fits them while gaining valuable experience.
In Staten Island, the Learning to Work program is administered through the NYCID-run SIYABC at Tottenville High School, and the transfer school Concord High School, as well as the transfer school Olympus Academy in Brooklyn. The students in our schools depend on funding from the City to make sure they can get and keep their students on the right path. Without these internships a lot of students in our schools would be struggling to make ends meet.
Students in NYC need the programs that help them succeed in life. The LTW program provides paid internships to 3,000 students in New York City each year. Without this program many students are at risk of dropping out or lacking the money they need to help support themselves and their families. This program can change peoples lives for the better.
Take for example Josh Figueroa, who graduated from SIYABC in 2016 and was a participant in the Learning to work program, calling his experience “phenomenal and definitely a life changer.”
Figueroa attended Ralph R. Mckee High School in 2014 and did not have enough credits to graduate. He knew he didn’t want to drop out but his options were scarce. He could either earn his GED or attend night school at the SIYABC. Not knowing what the experience would bring him Figueroa decided to sign up for orientation. It would end up being one of the best decisions he ever made.
Figueroa “started January 2015 and only a few days in, it felt like [he] had another family behind [his] back. YABC was a new ‘home’” he was able to “earn credits and feel comfortable”.
When Tragedy struck in Figueroa’s life a few months later the staff at the SIYABC was there for him, prompting him to take some time off. While Figueroa appreciated the sentiment he knew he had to strive on and achieve his high school diploma, something he didn’t think would be possible a year prior.
When the time came for an internship workshop Figueroa knew he wanted to sign up. In the workshop students were given “opportunities to work based off of [their] likings and hobbies, YABC worked with [him] and a few other students, they work with you and make sure you’re on your feet, they helped [him] through out so much in such little time.” Figueroa was able to graduate from the Staten Island YABC in 2016 and now works full time in an automotive shop.
Figueroa’s case is not an anomaly. Last year the city spent $42 million on the Learning to Work program including $9 million to fund paid internships. This year they plan to cut the program’s budget by 72% leaving just $11.7 million to serve 17,000 students across New York City. We understand that at a time when COVID-19 is ravaging our country there are cuts that need to be made. The Learning to Work program and it’s students cannot afford these cuts. These are students that others have given up on. If we lose funding we could be looking at a high school dropout crisis in New York City.
Pavel Valera, who has been the Director of the Staten Island YABC for a year and a half and in the YABC system for more than six years, said he chose this career path because he sees himself “as one of the students, back in the day we didn’t have YABC programs or anything like that. I know how it is to come from an impoverished neighborhood. I know how it is to not value going to school vs. making money either legitimate or non legitimate. I was able to have good role models to steer me away from those bad influences and keep me on the right path to college and to get my masters. That is something I loved and will always love, and I continue to love: my career choice, and being part of YABC.”
When asked about rumors of budget cuts to LTW Valera said “We need this funding secured because our students are the most vulnerable of the population. We provide a service that cannot be fabricated. My staff and myself, we are on the front lines bettering our communities by aiding our students to help them become employable, and having them be employed with soft and hard skills. That’s all for their future and for them to be productive members of society. That’s what we want out of them. ”
We need to let the mayor and department of education know that we have been around since 2005 and we are not going anywhere. Their actions will have consequences this November. If they cut our budget they are taking money away from families that need it and hindering the progress of the youth of our city.
Whether it is in person or online, we need Learning to Work in some form in 2020! What will happen to the students who will be left behind if our funding is cut?
Now you may be thinking to yourself: how can I help? These programs are important and I want our students to have as many resources and opportunities as possible. You can go to your social media and use the hashtags #SaveLTW and #ProtectLTW to tell the Mayor and DOE Chancellor that we need this program to be fully funded! You can also attend our Virtual Save LTW Rally for Staten Island on October 27th to hear from real people who have benefitted from this program. Share your voice and save Learning to Work!