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Productive summers mean student success

MY VIEW • Summer Youth Corps will help with jobs, college visits, other activities

We know a lot of what it takes to ensure student academic success. For many, a productive summer is key.

Students who work at a summer job are more likely to stay in school and graduate.

Students behind on core graduation credits who attend summer school are more likely to graduate from high school. But budget cuts driven by the current recession will reduce summer school opportunities and risk increasing the dropout rate.

Our state legislators and governor face extremely difficult choices in putting together a balanced budget during the worst recession in a generation. We know their challenges - we have had to make cuts to our city and county budgets as well.

We pledge to continue our efforts toward finding a long-term fix for education funding. Our schools, our teachers, and our students deserve it and our community desperately needs it.

One tangible way to do that right now is to focus on making this summer a productive one for local youth.

At the beginning of the year, we formed an Education Cabinet - bringing leaders of school districts, nonprofit organizations, public sector professionals and private-sector partners together to design and implement real solutions. Through this effort, we have created the Summer Youth Corps, an umbrella city and county public-private effort that helps provide summer jobs, recreational activities, college visits and workplace internships for thousands of local youths.

Summer Youth Corps is designed to support those students most at risk of not completing school on time, or at all. It is an academic safety net for the many students who, in these tough school budget times, are hit hardest. Youth Corps expands students' knowledge of career opportunities and work experience so that they are motivated to pursue education after graduation.

The Summer Youth Corps includes:

• More than 1,500 jobs through city bureaus - like the Bureau of Environmental Services' Grey to Green program, Parks and Recreation's aquatics program, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability's Youth Planning Program and jobs in the private sector working with our regional workforce provider, Worksystems, Inc.

• A pilot program for 10th graders to provide credit recovery courses and paid internships with local public employers;

• Continued county and city funding for the nationally-recognized SUN Service System, including SUN Community Schools and youth case management services.

• City funding to neighborhood nonprofits to continue providing their proven, youth-focused, anti-violence intervention programs through the Office of Youth Violence Prevention;

• Joint city and county bridge funding to the pilot Restorative Justice Program at Parkrose Schools, a program that shifts the focus from punishment and school exclusion to restoration and school engagement - and ultimately increasing graduation.

We also have invested in the Portland Schools Foundation's 'Ninth Grade Counts' initiative to provide career and college visits for up to 500 incoming 9th graders. High school seems more important to youths who are beginning to think about their futures and who see real opportunities ahead for them.

These summertime opportunities will help youths to earn money, gain real-world work experience, learn about real-world career opportunities and stay in high school.

But we need employers who can host a business visit for a group of students to come and learn about what you do. And we need volunteers to spend a few of their summer days accompanying youths on their career and college site visits. Call Reese Lord at 503-823-4027 for more information.

A summer is a terrible thing to waste. Especially when a summer better spent can mean the difference between a student graduating from high school or dropping out.

Sam Adams is mayor of Portland. Ted Wheeler is chairman of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.