WASHINGTON – Waukesha,Wis.,has a teen leadership program that promotes school and civic engagement.
In Brigham City, Utah,the Youth Empowerment Team has been active for 11 years.
The Grand Forks, N.D.,mayor's cabinet encourages teenage involvement.
These programs vaulted the three communities onto this year's list of 100 Best Communities for Young People. The annual list from America's Promise Alliance,a foundation,honors cities,towns,neighborhoods and school districts that make the most difference in teenagers' lives.
The foundation chose the communities based on how each lived out the alliances' five core promises – providing children with caring adults,safe places,proper health care and diet,effective education and opportunities to help others.
The communities chosen range from Landfall,Minn.,a mobile home community of 700,where an “Extra Innings” tutoring program helps all children in need,to New York,which provides both individual and corporate support to its nearly 2 million young people.
More than 350 municipalities from all 50 states applied for the honor this year,said APA spokeswoman Colleen Wilber. Those communities chosen go above and beyond what others do to help inspire youth succeed in life,she said.
“These communities are all working in a cross-sector way to reach their children. … They are making children a priority in everything that they do,” Wilber said.
Educators,leaders and students were on hand from each community Monday and Tuesday at the JW Marriott Hotel to accept the honor and learn from each other's ideas. Monday evening a reception featured program founders former secretary of state Colin Powell and his wife,Alma.
One group from Austin, Texas was especially grateful to be honored. Reagan High School in the city's St. John neighborhood is in danger of being closed next year due to continued low academic performance. However,both the students and officials said the honor gave them hope they might be able to continue.
Several of the school's top students traveled to Washington for the event. Each is involved in extracurricular activities,many of which receive support from the surrounding community. They knew that the school had its problems,but hoped to take what they learned from the forum and spread the message back home.
“It's another push of motivation to keep wanting to do better. You've seen all the progress you've made and you want to do better,” said senior Myshelle Perkins,17.
It's an uphill battle for the school. Texas law mandates that a school underperforming for four years straight must close – Reagan is in its fourth. The community involvement to save the school is what gave the St. John neighborhood the national distinction.
Allen Weeks,president of the St. John Neighborhood Association,said the distinction adds momentum to the effort to save the school. He leads several initiatives to save Reagan and Webb,its middle school counterpart. Among the efforts introduced are a book fair and after-school activities that encourage youth empowerment.
Weeks said that disabled veterans regularly visit to tutor and teach the youngsters valuable lessons.
“You might not have all the advantages,but you can do what you want to do,” he said.
Principal Anabel Garza said she hopes the experience was an inspirational one for her students.
“Sometimes kids feel like they're helpless. … I hope the kids got to see that anything is possible,” she said.