Dear Editor: I attended a high school graduation in the Fox Cities this spring that gave me great concern for the future of nearly half of the graduating class.

As the names were read, 14% were recognized with high honors, 24% with honors. Others earned service honors. In all, it was much-deserved recognition for 56% of the graduates, most of whom are likely heading to college or technical school.

It’s the future of the other 44% that concerns me. Do they have an avenue to a sustainable future? I know some do. But I also know many are now entering the workforce equipped with a high school diploma but no real workplace training, no ability to find employment beyond low-wage service jobs. Are they destined for a lifetime of poverty?

For months now I’ve been visiting with school administrators and community leaders, asking what we are doing to prepare these “bottom half teens” for what awaits. We need to offer options, alternative paths. How about massively expanded apprenticeship programs and other vocational training beginning as early as sophomore year? How about reshaping how we teach life skills?

We need buy-in from schools to make that happen. We need buy-in from employers willing to participate in apprenticeship programs and provide mentoring, not just in the Fox Cities but in communities across Wisconsin and beyond.

I’m screaming as loud as I can. Join me at Speak up. Let’s get a community conversation started so we can help these kids who so often get left behind when school ends and life gets real.

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A. John Wiley


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