New center aims to help high school dropouts get diplomas, jobs

By Michael Anthony Adams | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on November 03, 2016

Mayor Ras J. Baraka on Nov. 3, 2016

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NEWARK — A center to help reengage the city's young people who've dropped out of school opened Thursday, marking the first step in a "comprehensive strategy" to place disengaged youths in schools and special programs to further their education, a release from the city said.

The Reengagement Center, located in the city's Central Ward at 201 Bergen Street, will reach a population of young people who, according to Mayor Ras J. Baraka, are not discussed in the debates around who's in schools, who controls schools and what's happening with schools.

"No one talks about the kids who don't finish school," Baraka told attendees at the center's opening. "We know that here in Newark, too many of our young people disconnect from school or jobs, and then get overlooked by our traditional support systems."

In collaboration with Rutgers University-Newark, Newark Public Schools, and several other community-based organizations, Baraka said, the Reengagement Center will support these young people, and help harness their untapped potential to lead more successful and fulfilling lives.

"There are in the range of 4,000 young men and women, under the age of 21, who are not in school, and for whom school was not a successful experience," said Newark Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Cerf. "What I want to say as loudly and as clearly and as often as I can is: I believe that they are our responsibility as well."

The center's staff will assist disengaged youth with reenrollment and transfer services by conducting an academic and social assessment to determine the best school placement for each student, the release said. Students will then be matched to a school or program that meets their academic, social-emotional and professional needs.

Once students are placed in a school or program, the release said, staff members will follow them for three months during their "transition period."

Opening the center is just one of five goals the collaboration—known as the Opportunity Youth Network—hopes to achieve with its "comprehensive strategy" over the next decade, the release said. The next steps, according to the release, are to create alternative education and workforce development programs, focus on youth-related issues to improve policies, improve data sharing and coordination of services between systems and organizations, and gather feedback from young people to improve city education and employment services.

Cerf told attendees Thursday that he wants young people in the city, "who may not have gotten the start that they deserved," to come back and "take advantage of all the love and care and spirit and resources that are represented here today."

"This isn't charity," said Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University Newark. "This is self-interest, but it's self-interest in a collective framework. You can't do this alone. The youth can't do this alone, that's for sure."

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