For the better part of the last decade, I’ve worked as an education advocate in Hunts Point, an isolated community in the south Bronx. As many New Yorkers know, Hunts Point is consistently cited as the most at-risk neighborhood for children in the city based on low education attainment, record joblessness, housing conditions, health outcomes and other factors. Over 59 percent of the children in the community live in poverty.
Despite the difficult environment, we work with students to prepare them for success in high school, in college and beyond. Recently, a colleague wondered aloud: What is the difference for students who are able to move beyond the neighborhood legacy of low high school graduation rates and poverty?
I believe that the primary difference is the connection to people like him — youth development professionals, teachers, parents, caregivers and grandparents. The difference is a relationship with a supportive adult. Research stretching back close to 20 years has identified the support of a caring adult as a strong protective factor contributing to resilience in at-risk students. As youth advocates have always known: Every child needs a champion.
The presence of a caring adult in any child’s life is often pivotal: the undivided attention they offer, the experiences they share, the reassurance they can give as a child becomes a teenager and begins to explore the larger world. Becoming an adult requires that we take risks and make mistakes. It is only by making mistakes that we learn to assume responsibility for our actions, to ask forgiveness and begin to understand our relationship to others.