Langevin Goes Back to School
Moving on Up
A half hour had already passed during my visit to Year Up Providence. Two young people gave me a tour and then led me into a conference room to explain more about the job training program. It was only then that I realized they were speaking as though they were participants in the program. I had to ask: don’t you work here?
These two impressive young people, Giorgi and Alberto, were rattling off statistics and graduate outcomes. They were so professional and knowledgeable; I just assumed they were members of the staff. Giorgi maintains she wasn’t always like that. There was a time when she was afraid to speak in public, but the Year Up program has changed her life. In fact, it has changed a lot of lives.
Year Up Providence is a one-year, intensive training program that gives low-income young adults, ages 18 to 24, the workforce skills they need to be competitive in the job market. All students learn soft skills like resume writing and successful interviewing, and then they break off into either an IT track or a customer service program. All students have mentors, earn college credits and embark on internships with nearly 20 corporate partners in the area. And in Providence, the vast majority of those students go on to do great things.
Beating national averages, the current class of 80 students – pulled from more than 700 applicants – has 100 percent retention. The most recent crop of graduates has a 97 percent success rate, meaning they are either enrolled full-time in college or, more commonly, they have moved on to full-time employment and earning a living wage of at least $30,000 per year.
It’s no wonder that Year Up is building a reputation for success, and the non-profit moved into its new, bigger space on Fountain Street in July of this year. I was so impressed by the program, and especially by the students. Giorgi spoke at length about the community of support created at Year Up. Students earn stipends through their internships, but if they commit infractions like coming in late, they are penalized financially, which goes back to the program’s emphasis on personal responsibility and accountability. Each week, students are given an update of how they are performing, and they have the opportunity to see which classmates are struggling. When that happens, Giorgi says they don’t just sit by and watch. They reach out, find out what’s going on and how that student can be helped.
“We lift as we climb,” she says, noting that even though she and her colleagues are on their way to bigger and better things, “it’s lonely if you’re alone at the top.”
Thankfully, they have each other to lean on. I have every confidence that all of the students will find their way to the top, together.
As a teenager, my mom used to do a lot of volunteer work for political campaigns. Begrudgingly, I would tag along. It didn’t take long for me to catch the bug, though, and soon I was volunteering of my own volition. Once I started college, civics took on a new life for me. I ran for office in Student Government and, while still a student, ran for office off campus, too. I was elected a Delegate to Rhode Island’s Constitutional Convention in 1986 and two years later won election to the Rhode Island House of Representatives. Eight years later, while pursuing my Master’s degree from Harvard, I became the nation’s youngest Secretary of State, a position I held with pride until my election to the United States Congress in 2000.
I often wonder: would I have ended up in public service if not for that early involvement?
For a great group of students at the University of Rhode Island, it’s a question they won’t have to ask themselves. During a casual discussion with the URI Student Senate, I was fortunate to meet young people who are trying to make a difference in their community. It is exciting to see the civic pride I had as a college student exhibited in a new generation of future leaders. They have strong opinions, and rightfully so. They offer a unique perspective on the problems that plague our society, and listening to them and empowering them to step forward and make a difference is vital. Having them engaged in the process already is a good sign of things to come, because you can’t make a difference on the sidelines and your voice can’t be heard if you’re silent.
During our time together, the students asked pointed, thoughtful questions and I am confident that they will make a positive impact on the university, their communities, the state and, hopefully someday, the nation or even the world. Their potential is limitless, and I wish all of the students luck as they move forward as leaders at school and in life.
Head of the Class
As I am sure many of my constituents are aware, cuts are being made to HeadStart programs in Rhode Island and across the country due to sequestration. HeadStart is a federal program that provides services and resources to low-income families, with a focus on early childhood development. HeadStart provides school preparation for young children about to enter pre-school, nutritious meals to families in need, and even health and dental care.
In Rhode Island alone, $1.3 million was cut from the program, which totals a 5 percent drop. I am heartbroken to hear that childcare programs around the state are cutting classrooms, turning children away. In Rhode Island, 370 children are being excluded from the programs this year. These numbers are truly devastating because it will not only impact the children, but working parents will be forced to find alternatives for care and teaching settings.
Despite these cuts, HeadStart educators and community action agency officials are doing more with less and making the most of a bad situation. During a visit to the South Kingstown HeadStart program, which has already had to cut another classroom entirely, the teachers were still in good spirits and the students were proud to show off some of the things they’ve learned this year, including two wonderful songs. They were also a very patient group as I read one of my favorite books, “House Mouse, Senate Mouse,” which explains how government works. Thanks so much to the students, teachers and South County Community Action staff for your hospitality. I will keep fighting for you in Washington!
A Lot of Sole
The list of interests for most 12-year-olds probably includes things like sports, socializing and the latest tech gadget. Not Nicholas Lowinger. At the age of 12, Nicholas was worried about homelessness and poverty in America, and he decided to take action.
Now, just three years later, Nicholas is the founder and CEO of the Gotta Have Sole Foundation, a non-profit that distributes new shoes to young people living in homeless shelters across the country. Gotta Have Sole has expanded to 28 states and has helped more than 11,500 young people. The organization has broadened its scope as well, and the “Solediers” branch now provides new footwear to veterans living at or below the poverty level in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Already, more than 500 veterans have benefited from the program. These are incredible accomplishments for any philanthropist, let alone a teenager.
When I visited Gotta Have Sole, I was surprised to find that the headquarters - filled to the brim with boxes of new shoes and shipments ready for homeless shelters near and far – is actually the garage of the Lowinger’s family home in Cranston. Nicholas enlisted the help of his generous parents and grandparents to work for Gotta Have Sole, and they did not hesitate to turn over the garage to the cause. That tells me that Nicholas is truly a product of his environment. His parents fostered in him a desire to help others; though I’m sure they never expected to see his commitment flourish into such a prosperous enterprise.
I am awestruck by Nicholas and his dedication to the cause. Selflessness is an admirable quality in anyone, and to see it on display at his is a sure sign that Nicholas will continue to do extraordinary things in the future. I feel honored to know him, and I look forward to hearing more from Nicholas and Gotta Have Sole for many years to come.
Teacher of the Year
Congressman Langevin presents Patricia Page with a citation and congratulates her on being named 2014 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year.
There are so many exceptional educators in the Second District and all across Rhode Island. I imagine it was difficult to narrow down the pool of applicants, but I cannot think of anyone more deserving of the 2014 Teacher of the Year award than Patricia Page from East Greenwich High School. I was thrilled to visit the school during a professional development day in order to get the chance to congratulate Pat in person.
In her business and computer education classes, Pat teaches her students valuable skills that help them narrow down their focus for life after high school. From financial literacy to business smarts, she empowers her students and is the perfect example of an educator in a traditional classroom setting thinking outside the box. It’s not just about grades or tests for her – it’s about readying young people for the real world.
Congratulations to Patricia and to East Greenwich High School for supporting top-notch teachers!
A Promising Group
To be completely honest, I imagine some of my colleagues are a little tired of hearing me talk about cybersecurity. But for too long cybersecurity has been pushed aside in the larger national security discussion.
I have been involved in cybersecurity policy for some time now, and I strongly believe that we must work together in order to protect our networks and critical infrastructure. On the bright side, awareness of cyber issues and how our cyber defenses play into our overall safety has greatly increased in recent years, but we have much more work to do.
One of the major challenges we face is the lack of skilled workers for this growing industry. And with a small talent pool to choose from, government jobs are often overlooked for more lucrative private sector positions. That’s why I was thrilled to speak with the students in the Terrorism and Transnational Crime course at Salve Regina University. It is so encouraging to see bright young people who recognize the need and want to help. They have carefully examined the job market and realize that IT and cyber skills will go a long way toward getting them into well-paying, challenging careers. Right now, we face a shortage of the most highly qualified cyber operators, but if our educational leaders like Salve continue to step up to the plate and train a new generation of cybersecurity professionals, there is hope for the future.
Congressman Langevin speaks with high schoolers about their personal educational experiences and goals.
Education is not a one size fits all endeavor. Each student learns at their own pace, with their own style. So when we try to make students conform, and disregard that individuality, it is a disservice to the student and to the teacher.
Instead, we should be teaching our young people to play to their strengths. I believe each of us is born with our own unique gifts and talents, and it is often in school, under the direction of professional educators, that those skills come to light.
If you’re looking for an example, look no further than the New England Laborers Academy. For a student who learns through experience or enjoys working with his hands, a traditional classroom environment could stifle growth, diminish self-esteem and ultimately put him or her at risk of falling through the cracks. NEL/CPS, though their unique charter school partnership with the Cranston Public Schools district, identifies those students and transplants them into an environment where hands on, project-based learning is the order of the day. During my visit to the school, students were busy laying pipe near the structure of a house. Some of the students came to NEL/CPS during their sophomore or junior years of high school, after hearing about the alternative learning environment the charter school has to offer. Others started as freshmen, set on becoming tradespeople. One student told me he enrolled at the charter school after volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. He loved the project so much he realized a career in construction was the right path for him.
The skills students learn at NEL/CPS prepare them for a career, not in theory but in practice. They build houses and roadways and experience internships that could translate into an apprenticeship or ultimately a full-time job. At the same time, the Laborers Academy addresses a major skills gap and plants the seed for a skilled work force in the construction trades. Students and educators alike are able to reap what they sow.
It is our responsibility to provide a rewarding and successful public education. In order to do that effectively, that means meeting the needs of each and every child.
Worthy of a Blue Ribbon
Congressman Langevin regales students at Stony Lane Elementary School with a story.
The Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes elementary, middle and high schools where students perform at a high level of academic achievement. The designation is not easy to get, and signifies hard work on the part of administrators, educators and, most of all, students.
In the Second Congressional District, I am so proud that Stony Lane Elementary School in North Kingstown is one of those few esteemed schools.
Visiting Stony Lane was a great way to start my week, and the students were all so well-behaved as Principal Ed Ferrario and Superintendent Dr. Philip Auger led me on a tour of the school. It’s an interesting set-up, if you’ve never been there, because instead of traditional classrooms, grade levels are separated by moveable partitions. It makes for a very welcoming environment and one where teachers and students are able to interact freely. It also makes for an environment where teachers have to be at the top of their game, though. One first grade meltdown would echo through the large spaces, and with dividers barely taller than the teachers, school officials have an added challenge of containing bad behavior and stopping it from spreading. It’s a delicate balance, but one that Stony Lane has mastered. Clearly, the Blue Ribbon award is deserved.
I asked Mr. Ferrario if there was anything that really made Stony Lane stand out in the application process, and he mentioned that the school’s free and reduced lunch population is outperforming their peers in other districts. According to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, low-income students have historically performed less well than high-income students on most measures of academic success, including standardized tests, grades, high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates. Overcoming that achievement gap is no easy feat, but Stony Lane is beating the odds and ensuring that low-income and at-risk students are given the tools and support they need to thrive.
Congratulations to all of the students, teachers and families at Stony Lane! It is a well-deserved honor, and you should all be proud.