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Lifeline For At-Risk Teens

Thousands of dollars richer, a city college will be able to continue to help at-risk teens embark on the path to success. The New York City College of Technology has received a $197,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to fund the expansion of an innovative outreach program. Implemented in 2003, the initiative was meant to encourage alternative high school students to pursue an education at City Tech and careers in healthcare. Through the program, professors and students from City Tech discuss the benefits of attending college and detail jobs in the medical field to students at Passages Academy, a citywide alternative high school program created through a collaboration between the city Departments of Juvenile Justice and Probation. Approximately 4,000 teenage offenders study at Passages sites. With the federal funding, which City Tech officials secured with the assistance of Rep. Ed Towns, additional Passages sites throughout the city will be able to participate in the outreach program. This is exciting news for Passages Principal Sydney Blair, who said the initiative has already done wonders for teens. “The student visitors from City Tech open opportunities for further education and careers that our students did not think were possible,” Blair said. After the visits, “Our participating faculty report that students continue to discuss City Tech’s presentations and want more information, including how to be considered for admission.” This outreach program came to fruition when Blair asked Len Friedman, chair of City Tech’s Department of Dental Hygiene and a trained orthodontist, to speak to Passages students about his job. Believing that the troubled teenagers deserved an opportunity to excel academically, Friedman jumped at the chance to help. Since then, he and other City Tech staffers and students have visited four Passages sites – three in Downtown Brooklyn and one in Lower Manhattan. The teens have also made trips to City Tech, where they were impressed and inspired by the resources available to the college’s students. “Many of the Passages students have never been out of the neighborhoods in which they grew up and have never been to a college campus, so coming to City Tech is an eye-opener,” Friedman said. “When they come and see the equipment students here work with – from the big mixers in our [Department of] Hospitality Management kitchens to the printing equipment in ADGA [Department of Advertising Design and Graphic Arts] to the computerized tomography equipment in RadTech [Department of Radiologic Technology and Medical Imaging] – it may be the spark that motivates them to set their sights for a college degree and a career.” The mentoring experience is also advantageous to the City Tech students who visit Passages sites. As they are only a few years older than the Passages students, they are able to empathize with the teens’ situations. Anaika Forbes, a 21-year-old City Tech student, said she “understands where these students are coming from.” That’s because in her neighborhood, East New York, she has seen many people her age go on to sell drugs, become teenage mothers, or wind up in the juvenile detention system. Forbes tells the Passages teens that these things don’t have to happen to them. “My goal is to show the students that there’s something else to do besides getting into trouble,” she said. “They perk up when you tell them they can earn up to $40 an hour as a dental hygienist and can set your own hours.” City Tech student Maria Caputo, 20, has learned as much from the Passages teens as they have from her. Before becoming involved with the initiative, “I had never heard of a school like Passages Academy and being involved with the project has shown me that there are other aspects of life than the ones I’ve experienced,” the Tottenville, Staten Island, resident explained. “It has given me a chance to interact with people very different from myself and come to understand that everyone, regardless of their background, is worthy of respect.” With the program such a hit, Friedman is uneasy that the city Department of Juvenile Justice is considering closing two of the four Passages sites partnered with City Tech. But even if this happens, the college will remain dedicated to Passages’ other sites. “We will continue to visit the ones that are still operating in order to continue providing this valuable and well-received service,” he said.

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