The meaning of being an at-risk youth

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The meaning of being an at-risk youth

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We hear the phrase "at risk youth" all the time. What it means is these are young people, boys and girls, there are all sorts of risks that they could fall prey to. One is dropping out of school, because our society doesn't provide a lot of opportunities for dropouts. So if they are not getting a quality education, if they are bored by their education, disengaged; they are at risk of dropping out. Generally, that happens in low-income neighborhoods, where we, as a society, in my opinion, are not spending the money on quality education that we need to. One quick example, in the Los Angeles Unified Public Schools today, they are spending in the neighborhood of $8,000 per pupil. At my old high school, a private school, Crossroads, we are spending $30,000 per pupil. Nobody drops out. Why? Is that luxury education? No, it's quality. They don't drop out because they are getting a quality education that engages them We then take children, generally African American or Latino, boys and girls, and if they commit any kind of a crime -- selling drugs, or this or that -- they get sent to these incarceration camps. There are 14 of them around California. We spend $200,000 a bed at these places. We, as a society, are willing to spend $200,000 per kid, to lock them up; but only $8,000 to educate them. It's upside down. They are at risk because we, as a society, put them there.

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Paul Cummins, PhD

Educator & Author

Dr. Paul Cummins, President and CEO of Coalition for Engaged Education (CEE), received his bachelor of arts from Stanford University, his MAT from Harvard, and his doctorate from the University of Southern California.  In 1971, he co-founded Crossroads School in Santa Monica and built it into one of Los Angeles’s most successful educational institutions and a national model for innovative, independent schools. 

In 1995, Cummins stepped down as Headmaster of Crossroads and formed New Visions Foundation (now Coalition for Engaged Education) to offer opportunities for Engaged Education to all youth. The first venture was New Roads School, a diverse, K-12 independent school in Santa Monica that has a deep commitment to social justice. New Roads devotes 40% of its tuition budget to need-based student financial aid, guaranteeing access to students from a wide socioeconomic array. Cummins has since implemented a number of innovative programs to help children at risk.

Cummins has published four books on education, including Proceed With Passion: Engaging Students in Meaningful Education (2004), and Two Americas, Two Educations: Funding Quality Schools for all Students (2007), both published by Red Hen Press. His most recent book of essays, Why Poetry? Reflections on Poetry, Writing and Culture, was published in 2009 by Xlibris, in addition to two volumes of his poetry and two children's books published in recent years. He is currently finishing Confessions of a Headmaster: My Pursuit of Joy and Justice in Education (forthcoming from Red Hen Press).

Cummins and his wife Mary Ann reside in Santa Monica. They have four daughters and five grandchildren.

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