Paying Bad Students to Go to School Is a Great Idea

Rant 11

dollarsHere's a question: Would you go to work if you weren't going to get paid? I'm guessing probably not. And that's exactly why I think paying kids with "poor academic and behavioral records" to go to summer school is a brilliant idea. That's what the Washington, D.C. "Summer Bridge" program is all about -- 305 students targeted as "less likely than their peers to graduate high school within four years" are being paid $5.25 an hour to hit the books during summer break, in the hopes that they'll stick with the routine when the school year starts.

Of course opponents of the program are worried that kids who participate are going to end up thinking they deserve rewards for going to school from September to June, too, and that bribing kids to learn "sends the wrong message." Sure, these seem like valid concerns -- until you consider the way most at-risk teens are forced to live: Hand-to-mouth. Day-to-day.

This program was designed for kids who don't necessarily know how to think "big picture." Born into less-than-favorable socio-economic circumstances, they've spent all or most of their lives in survival mode, unable to think past where their next meal is coming from or how they're going to do their homework if the electricity gets turned off. The concept of working toward long-term goals is lost on kids whose entire existence has been defined by crisis -- one after another after another. Kids who wouldn't dare to bring up something like college to their parents, not when they can't even pay the rent.

These kids need more immediate incentive (and of course, they need money, too). Will they keep showing up for class when the paychecks stop coming? I have to hope that the answer is yes. I have to hope that a couple of good, productive months will open their eyes and boost their self-esteem to the point where they can starting thinking "big picture" at last. (I'm guessing that's why they call it the "Summer Bridge" program.)

Do you think paying at-risk teens to go to summer school is a good idea?

 

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