CONNECTING YOUTH TO OPPORTUNITYBETAH was commissioned by the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region and Montgomery College to conduct an unprecedented study to assess the academic and workforce development needs of Black and African American youth and young adults in Montgomery County, MD. The study aimed to identify potential risk factors for disconnection as a way to improve opportunities, resources, and services.
In the span of six months, BETAH conducted a survey and successfully obtained the perspectives of over 1,200 youth, ages 14 to 24, who were high school students, high school graduates, or youth who left high school before graduating. Using a peer-to-peer approach, BETAH hired and trained over 25 youth and young adults to connect with their peers and social networks. This approach was an extremely effective community engagement strategy.
The youth surveyed were asked questions regarding school and family environments, risk behaviors, involvement in the justice system, social supports and connections, as well their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. For many youths, their disconnection involved a lack of support from both teachers and parents. High school dropouts were 34% less likely to believe that their teachers expected them to finish high school or to attend college, and 40% were less likely to receive support from their parents to complete high school, to discuss their future after high school, or to believe that their parents had high expectations for them to go to college. Youth who left school before graduating felt less connected to the school as a whole—feeling discriminated against, bullied, and even less physically safe.
The disconnections, however, went well beyond school and family environments. BETAH’s researchers found that the path to disconnection may be due to limited opportunities for meaningful work for Black youth. The study found that only 31% of youth who dropped out of school were working, and 48% of youth who dropped out described their economic status as “bad” or “very bad.”
The study also revealed that a high proportion of youth at risk of disconnection reported a history of arrests, incarceration, or other contact with law enforcement in Montgomery County. The people who reported being stopped by the police ranged from 31% for high school students to 64% for youth who dropped out. High school dropouts were twice as likely to have been arrested or placed in detention/jail in their lifetime.
As part of the study, the youth surveyed shared their perspectives and provided recommendations to the County, which included more vocational programs, more support for parents to help them understand the school system, and more diverse teachers/counselors/principals.