The challenges of the 21st century can only be met by a highly-educated workforce, but fewer than 12% of all high school freshman in Holyoke and Springfield will earn their diploma in 4 years or plan to attend college. So says new data from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. In response to this growing problem, a series of Youth-Focused Summits were held around the state–the Western Mass conference was on June 11, at Holyoke Community College. The event was hosted by Commonwealth Corporation, in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Education and Department of Workforce Development and the Regional Employment Boards of Western Massachusetts, along with a number of other community groups. A website for the event, designed to facilitate further discussion, is now up here.
The morning session featured a presentation by Dr. Andrew Sum, who related the statistics on school achievement in Western Mass. Only 53% of students in Springfield and Holyoke graduate high school in 4 years, and only 20% of those graduates planned to attend college in the fall. These findings are especially urgent, because among 16-24 year olds in Hampden County, 35% of high school graduates and over 50% of high school dropouts are unemployed. Some of Dr. Sum’s data is available at the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County website in this pdf file.
The latter part of the event was structured as an “Open Space Conversation.” Attendees volunteered particular issues or questions that were important to them and then led informal small group discussions on those topics. The event was designed to be free-flowing, with people encouraged to circulate among the various ongoing conversations. While the conversation were generally very productive, with many people bringing their valuable experience to the table, there was some feeling that the summit would have been even better if the students who were the subject of the day’s discussions had been there to bring their own views to the conversation. Hopefully, future conferences will do so. At the Springfield Institute, we are committed to bringing the voices of the people of the community – especially youth, who are traditionally underrepresented – into the ongoing dialogue, not just periodic meetings.