Michael Bendok | MARCH 31, 2020
Throughout Arizona, the excitement of new opportunities is in the air. High School seniors are eager to go off to college, or start a full time job. College students, empowered by their extensive education, are ready to start a new chapter in their lives. But many youth in Arizona are not part of this springs promise of new beginnings.
Instead of laying the foundation of knowledge, skills, identity, and purpose for their futures, one out of every five teens and adolescents in Phoenix are neither working nor in school, according to its City Council Engagement Study. These 100,000 Phoenicians compose a demographic known as ‘Disconnected youth’, a term used to characterize and identify youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not enrolled in school or working a job. Phoenix has the highest rate of disconnected youth than any other metropolitan city in America. The impacts of disconnection, especially on such young people, are profound. Limited education coupled with social exclusion have fostered a destructive reality which affects almost every aspect of their lives and futures. The most damaging are declines in physical and mental health, an increase in criminal behavior and incarceration, and early mortality.
It is important to note that youth disconnection is neither the fault of those affected, nor a problem they should face alone. Arizona’s government and its people must work in tandem to prevent the continued ostracization of these young adults from society by providing them with the opportunities they deserve. Primarily, we must reach out to disconnected youth, showing them they are not defined by their adversities.
Christopher Dickinson has been leading these efforts through the Zip Code Project, a program started by the Arizona Department of Education in 2015. His organization serves as a bridge between youth and services, such as dropout recovery programs, alternative schools, and job search programs. Felix Moran, the youth outreach coordinator for the Maricopa Education Service Agency, has been at the forefront of similar efforts to connect youth with jobs, schools, and nonprofits. Fortunately, their efforts are working.
According to a report by Measure of America this year, Metro Phoenix decreased its population of disconnected youth by almost 33% since the 2010 Ascensus, more than any other urban area. Although these efforts are extraordinary, 67,100 youth remain disconnected from our society. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of people like Christopher Dickinson and Felix Moran, ending youth disconnection in Arizona is actually possible.
As a society, we must collectively reach out to the next generation of potential leaders, doctors, engineers and world-changers whose futures do not deserve to be tainted by their circumstances. Connecting youth with dropout recovery programs, alternative schools, and job search programs have proved effective. Other avenues of connection, including sports and music programs, would drastically benefit the lives of these young adults. Teens part of amazing organizations can pilot efforts to connect with these youth and motivate them to strive for better futures