Talking to Teens
The economy is tanking, jobs are shrinking, and hope is fading, yet some Chicago Public School students are encouraged and looking towards a bright future.

In the midst of facing some of the world’s most challenging social ills such as increased gun violence perpetrated on students and an epidemically high dropout rate, the students I spoke with have big plans for their future.

“I’m excited about my future,” said Alexis De Paris Dixon, a senior at Austin V.O.S.I.E. High School. In spite of the economy and the challenges today’s youth are facing, Alexis is encouraged. “I think the economy will be fixed up pretty soon because the president is working on it.”

Alexis added that she believes by the time she graduates from college, everything will be alright. She is considering a career in photography which she plans to couple with her interest in fashion and modeling. “I will use it (photography) towards modeling and photographing models,” she explained

Josh Boston, a junior at V.O.S.I.E., is also looking towards his future.

“I’m thinking about a career in construction because I like building stuff,” he said.

Unlike Alexia, Josh is not as optimistic about the economy rebounding soon; therefore, he is considering an indirect route to reaching his career goals.

“I don’t think the economy is about to change anytime soon, so I guess I can just fall back on something that involves less income and just work my way up,” he said. “I’ll probably do something like music. That will be one of my alternatives because I am good in music.”

When asked what he is doing to prepare for a career in construction, Josh replied, “I’m taking math and calculus. All these things have something to do with measuring and   numbers. I think I can pursue it to the best of my ability to prepare for a career in construction.”

When asked what advice he would give a freshman about preparing for a career added, “I’d advise them to focus on the sciences and arithmetic wise. That’s where the jobs will be.”

Josh’s advice is consistent with what economists are projecting as necessary skills for securing future employment. There is a major push for youth to go into the scientific, mathematic, and engineering fields. In fact, current national labor statistics report there are an abundance of available jobs in the engineering and scientific fields, but there is not an abundance of educated, trained and skilled candidates to feel these five to six-figure salaried positions.

Choosing what to study is the least of today’s youth problems. Another threat to their future is the threat of not finishing high school. National dropout statistics are grim. The National Center for Education Statistic’s Public School Graduates and Dropouts stated there were approximately 613,379 high school dropouts each year. The report covered 49 states and the District of Columbia. It reported a national dropout rate of 4.1 percent. Indiana and New Jersey tied for the lowest dropout rate at 1.7 percent. Louisiana has the highest dropout rate, topping at 7.5 percent. Illinois landed slightly in the middle with a 3.5 percent dropout rate. Nationwide, the male dropout rate is 4.6 percent, with females trailing slightly at 3.5 percent. In addition to these startling statistics, the report stated that nationwide, 25 percent of all students dropout, and that nearly 40 percent of black and Hispanic students fail to graduate on time.

Austin Poly Technical High School freshman Antonia Westbrook feels she has chosen a field with a solid future.

“In four years, I hope to be a mortician. I don’t think my career is in jeopardy because people will die forever,” she said. “I am not taking anything (classes) now to prepare me; school doesn’t have the courses I need, so I’ll take them in college.”

Margaret Dade, a sophomore, plans to become a pediatrician because of her love of children and desire to help them.

“I am a little concerned about the economy, but not too much because I have a very strong future ahead of me,” she said.

As our nation faces a dropout crisis, it is great to know these students are not preparing to be among them.