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In Fresno Job Program, Students' Workday Begins in the Classroom

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FRESNO, CALIF--Each weekday morning this summer, as the sun begins to bake this city in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, nearly 300 high-school students make their way to Tehipite Middle School, where they spend half of the day receiving remedial instruction.

At noon, they leave their classes for afternoon jobs in the city's public offices and private business concerns.

And, for both of these activities, the 14- and 15-year-old students are being paid the minimum wage.

The Fresno youths are part of a national demonstration project testing the benefits of combining remediation with a jobs program..

Students chosen for the program have been assessed to be at least one grade level behind in mathematics or English. Their wages are paid by the federal government through the Summer Youth Employment and Training Program, a part of the Job Training Partnership Act.

But, unlike other similar jobs programs, the Fresno experiment does not require that participants spend a full day on the job in return for their pay.

Supporters say the project is setting the pace for communities now faced with a federal requirement to provide extra educational help to at-risk youths enrolled in the summer jobs program.

'Powerful Weapon'

"The summer months generally, and the federal summer youth jobs program in particular, may well be a powerful weapon in the battle to keep at-risk kids in school,'' says Michael A. Bailin, president of Public/Private Ventures, a Philadelphia-based, non-profit organization that designed the model program.

With funding from the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Labor Department, and several other foundations, P/PV for the past four years has operated the STEP--or Summer Training and Employment Program--demonstration in Fresno, San Diego, Seattle, Boston, and Portland, Ore.

Students participate in the program for 15 months, spanning two summers and the intervening school year. During the summers, they receive remediation based on a curriculum designed by P/PV with the help of local educators.

The curriculum is intended to help students retain and enhance their skill levels, particularly in mathematics and English.

It also provides instruction in "life-skills and opportunities,'' with the aim of increasing students' awareness of responsible social and sexual behavior.

During the school year, the students are assigned to a mentor, who tracks their attendance, provides tutoring, and arranges field trips.

Raising Test Scores

The youths enrolled in the pilot STEP projects have had higher reading and mathematics scores at the end of each summer than a similar group of students that had only summer jobs, according to a P/PV study.

The study also found that the STEP youths were more likely to have been promoted during the school year and to be better informed about responsible sexual behavior.

Public/Private Ventures plans to continue the research until 1993 to determine whether the program yields long-term improvements, such as reduced drop-out and teenage-pregnancy rates.

But the short-term results look so promising to the U.S. Labor Department that it is supporting the replication of the program this summer at 11 new sites in California, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania.

"STEP is the kind of program we would like to see across the country,'' says Raymond Uhalde, deputy administrator of the Labor Department's office of strategic planning and policy development.

Council-School Cooperation

The Fresno program also illustrates a trend towards greater cooperation between private-industry job-training groups and local school systems--two institutions that have not always had smooth relations in many cities, but which have been brought together by the new Congressional requirement.

In 1986, the Congress approved legislation that required local private industry councils that participated in the federal summer jobs program to assess the skills of their enrollees and provide remedial services to those in need.

The Congress acted to counter what research has shown is a loss in educational attainment during the summer months, particularly for the economically disadvantaged youths targeted by the summer jobs program.

That requirement has spurred many private industry councils to reach out to local school districts.

"The Labor Department has been urging better cooperation between private industry councils, community agencies, and school districts since the passage of the JTPA,'' says Mr. Uhalde. "The STEP program is a model for how that relationship can work for a summer youth program.''

William A. Matesso, program director for the Fresno Unified School District, agrees.

"No longer can organizations work separately,'' he says. "You have to work through turf battles and remember that you are working for a common goal--to improve students' lives.''

In the STEP demonstration here, the private industry council is the lead agency, responsible for oversight of the program and both the JTPA and P/PV funds.

The Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission recruits students into the program, determines their economic eligibility, and finds them jobs.

The remediation and life-skills components are the responsibility of the Fresno Unified School District.

"One institution can't continue to blame another institution for the problems that occur within a community,'' says Linda Wood, youth-services coordinator for the Fresno Private Industry Council.

"We identified our common problems and our common goals and began working from there.''

Targeting the Youngest

In a city with large numbers of Asian and Hispanic families, many of which are economically disadvantaged, there was no shortage of students in need of help, Mr. Metesso observes.

A dropout rate near 40 percent and a community unemployment rate that exceeds 10 percent, he says, provided the impetus to participate in the STEP project.

According to Mr. Matesso, local officials were also attracted to the program because it could be tailored to local needs, and because it lasted for 15 months.

"There's a tendency to come in and say 'we'll do this for six weeks or two months,''' he notes, "but individuals likely to drop out of school have multi-dimensional problems that are not short-term in duration--problems that need time.''

Both Mr. Matesso and Ms. Wood also praise STEP's focus on 14- and 15-year-old students, who are the youngest eligible to participate in summer-jobs programs.

"It's the earliest intervention possible through this federal program,'' Ms. Wood notes.

In addition to getting paid for their time, students can earn one semester of credit in both mathematics and English.

"Once we get them here, I think the students enjoy the individual attention they receive,'' says Carolyn Major, the STEP program's lead teacher.

Ms. Major works closely with other STEP teachers to coordinate the curriculum, which stresses highly individualized instruction.

With 14 teachers and several teacher aides, class sizes range from 15 to 20 students, compared with an average of 25 or more during the school year.

For many participants, though, the financial benefits of the program are its chief attraction. While students say they were not always eager to attend summer classes, they add that they wanted very much to earn some money.

Finding Jobs

But finding jobs for such young participants is not always easy.

Most employers participating in the federal summer jobs program want older students who can work full time, says Rose Guzman, the commission's remediation coordinator.

"It is much more difficult to place a 14-year-old STEP student because they can only work part-time and the employers perceive those kids to be less responsible and mature,'' she says.

But experience with the program has proven, she says, that "many of the younger students have actually been more responsible than the older ones.''

"I think we are getting to them at a younger age and developing good work habits before bad ones are formed.''

Intensive Teacher Training

Staffing is a critical component of the program, according to Mr. Matesso.

"You can't just look at a list of teachers who have signed up to teach summer school,'' he maintains. "You have to go out and find the best.''

Teachers complete an intensive, week-long preservice training course before the summer session begins to familiarize themselves with the special curriculum. In addition, P/PV consultants make frequent visits to the school during the summer to offer advice.

Mr. Matesso notes that many teachers are attracted to the program because of the extensive training and consultation offered, as well as the chance to play a role in its design.

Says Ms. Major of the latter benefit: "We were given the reins in shaping the curriculum to our students' needs.''

Each STEP site has, in addition to the lead teacher, a principal who handles disciplinary problems, class scheduling, and oversight of facilities.

For all their apparent success so far, the coordinators of the Fresno program are facing a new set of challenges this summer.

Going It Alone

For the first time, a class of students has entered the program without being part of the P/PV demonstration project. And, in addition, the local private-industry council has moved to expand STEP into five other school districts in Fresno County.

As P/PV steps out of the picture, the local agencies are having to find new ways to replace the funds previously provided by the demonstration grant.

In Fresno, the STEP program has relied on the combination of federal JTPA funds and grants from P/PV to cover salary costs for teachers, school-year mentors, and other personnel.

The school district has provided the facilities, computers, and other materials.

Ms. Wood says that, with the end of the P/PV demonstration project, the summer program will be run solely with JTPA. funds, which will cover both the work-experience and remediation efforts.

The school district currently plans to assume financial responsibility for the school-year support program. That includes the salaries of five part-time mentors and costs for any special events or field trips.

Do More With Less

Meanwhile, private-industry-council officials here and elsewhere say that the combination of federal budget cuts and a requirement to offer greater educational content is putting great financial strain on local summer-jobs programs.

They are being asked to do more with less, the officials say. And, as a result, they have been forced to make some difficult choices. Many communities have had to reduce the number of students served in order to provide remediation. Others have tried to combine resources with other agencies.

Statistics on summer-program funding show the extent of the financial problems that many of the private industry councils say they face.

In 1986, before the assessment and remediation requirement was initiated, federal funding for the summer program was $784 million. Expenditures for the program in 1987, the first summer under the new requirement, dropped to $636 million.

This year, the Congress raised funding for the program back up to $750 million. But the Reagan Administration's request for fiscal year 1989 would cut it to $718 million.

The average cost of providing one summer of work experience alone through SYETP is approximately $700 per enrollee.

In the STEP program, one summer of remediation and life-skills instruction averages an additional $717 per enrollee. That amount includes the value of contributed items, such as classroom space and computers.

For the whole 15-month program, which includes two summers and a school-year support program, the average per-student cost of the STEP program is $1,600, in addition to each student's wages.

School Year Vulnerable

Even in the Fresno area, the school-year portion of the program faces an uncertain budgetary future. Although the city school district plans to cover school-year costs in Fresno itself, the five districts elsewhere in the county that started the program this summer are currently unable to fund the school-year support program.

The same may be true in many other areas. Frances Vilella-Velaz, assistant director at P/PV, says that the school-year support program is the most vulnerable component of STEP. Because the federal funds can be used only during the summer, other funding sources must be secured for the school-year program.

The U.S. Labor Department is planning to propose legislation that would allow the use of summer funds for school-year remediation. But a similar proposal failed to gain approval in the Congress last year.

Many members of the Congress argue that expanding the scope of the program, without increasing its funds, will only dilute the effectiveness of summer efforts.

In the interim, Mr. Matesso suggests that communities arrange with their local colleges or universities to have social-welfare and education students serve as mentors, with their salaries paid for through a work-study program.

Solutions can be found, he stresses, and Ms. Wood concurs: "You must work together to maximize resources.''

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