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Column: Help Craft City’s First Youth Master Plan

Community Forums

Feb. 9

10 a.m.-noon

T.C. Williams Cafeteria

3330 King St.

Feb. 11

6:30-8:30 p.m.

Charles Houston Recreation Center

901 Wythe St.

Feb. 23

10 a.m.-noon

William Ramsay Center

5650 Sanger Ave.

— Alexandria is a community that supports and enhances the well-being, success, and achievement of children, youth and families: True or false?

That statement is from Goal 4 of the City’s Strategic Plan that was adopted in 2010. The question posed about its accuracy is one that I invite readers to evaluate. As the chair of the newly formed Children Youth and Families Collaborative Commission, I can confidently say that our raison d’etre is centered on working together to ensure that there are tangible data points that validate the city’s commitment to this goal and that the results we seek for our children and families are overwhelmingly evident. That Alexandria is rich in resources certainly comes as no surprise to most residents. These resources come in many forms and include parents, investments made by our elected officials in our schools and community-based organizations, businesses that provide opportunities for employees to volunteer time to support programs that benefit children and youth, faith-based organizations, and private citizens that mentor and support young people. As a commission, a great deal of our work will focus on how to best use our resources to ensure that more children and their families are thriving.

Recent findings have made it very clear that we must act with great urgency to address the needs in our community. Last fall Venture Philanthropy Partners released a report entitled Capital Kids, which examined the well-being of children and youth across our region. The report cited increased rates of poverty among children as one of the most challenging realities facing communities in our region, noting that between 2005 and 2010 the child poverty rate in Alexandria quadrupled — currently more than 1 in 10 children in our community lives in poverty. In addition, Alexandria City Public Schools has the highest dropout rate (13 percent) in Northern Virginia. Alexandria’s 2010-2011 reading and math proficiency scores for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students consistently had fewer percentages of children scoring in the proficient or higher ranges when compared to other school districts in Northern Virginia. On many occasions, our superintendent of schools has highlighted the extraordinary degree of diversity reflected in the student body — noting the benefits and challenges associated with meeting the needs of such a diverse group of students.

Fortunately our challenges, while significant, are not insurmountable when the community unites to help solve these problems. In fact, it is in our collective best interest to do so. When we have strong schools, adequate supports for working families including affordable housing, and high quality academic, social and physical enrichment opportunities for children and youth, it is associated with reductions in many negative outcomes including school failure, crime, teen pregnancy, gang activity, and disengaged/disconnected youth. These negative outcomes can adversely affect the economic vitality of a city with businesses electing to locate in safer communities and families choosing to live in other communities where schools and programs that serve children are accessible, affordable and high quality. While approximately 12 percent of households in our city may be actively parenting children, 100 percent of our residents can be adversely affected when children and youth disengage and become involved in activities that undermine their development and the safety and well-being of themselves and others.

This month you can come out and share your thoughts as we work to craft the first ever Youth Master Plan. Three Community Forums have been planned for citizens to come out and help shape the elements to be included in our plan. Sessions will be held on Feb. 8, 11, and 23 in various locations around the city. Please visit http://alexandriava.gov/CYFCC

to learn more about our work.