Guest Column: A view from outside the box
By Rick Schlaf
In a recent conversation with a Rockford alderman, I discussed the urgency to address the high school dropout problem, the seeming lack of good-paying jobs for young people and the continuing violence threatening many neighborhoods. The answer to finding grassroots solutions to these problems may be found in bringing continuing education services to various parts of the community desperately in need of support and new vision from the greater community. While existing alternative educational systems are making a difference, it is evident that more services are needed. Vocational training should be at the forefront of this thinking coupled with focused academic preparation to ensure meeting performance standards in the workplace.
Currently, the effort to redevelop the West Side of Rockford is gaining speed. It would seem the prudent thing to do during these exciting times of awakening is to encourage Rock Valley College to bring a storefront campus to this area. It is as important as bringing a drug store, supermarket, or other retail stores to this largely under-serviced area. It is not too difficult to understand the payback that a plan like this would produce. Where good things are in place, good people want to be. The young, the old, the newcomers and the current residents would then be the recipients of an innovative approach to stabilizing the west side. The planned corridor improvement of West State Street, Harrison and Springfield avenues is the very reason to encourage Rock Valley College to be an anchor for this area. What an impact it would make!!! This plan is not a new concept as developers around the country build with school systems as a focal point of their plan.
The vision to help stabilize neighborhoods in west and southwest Rockford includes promoting the return of G.E.D./ESL classes to Saint Elizabeth Community Center and revitalizing the centers after-school and weekend activities for young people and other residents, supporting Booker Washington and other community centers educational pursuits and by utilizing existing or building new facilities to bring Rock Valley Colleges new initiative (an inner-city storefront campus) to the west side of Rockford. It can be done (example: Waubonsee College located in Sugar Grove, Ill., has a campus in Aurora, Ill.). It can be done through long-range planning with city government, Rock Valley College officials, and developers who are busy developing the infrastructures and the vision for tomorrow. When families, educators, council members and community work together and are committed to training and skill development of young people, the threat of violence may diminish, and the prospect of a brighter future for Rockfords young people will grow. This plan may even help to attract new business to relocate in Rockford, providing jobs and hope!! We cannot wait too much longer.
Rich Schlaf is the vocational coordinator at CCS YouthBuild Rockford.