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November 27, 2014 / 5 Kislev, 5775
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At-Risk Is At Risk


With the economy heading south, we are all looking for ways to cut back on our expenses. I guess that’s good news for Motel 6, pawnshops and “Dollar Stores,” but it’s a pretty lousy development for anyone running a nonprofit organization (like me) because practically everyone except bankruptcy attorneys earns less money in times like these. Less money means less charity giving. Gulp!

So recently, an idea grabbed hold of me: How about thinking outside the box (kind of easy for me to do, since that’s where I live), and searching for innovative, inexpensive ways to solve or improve the teens-at-risk crisis for all of klal Yisrael?

Thus, in the spirit of Chodesh Adar (and post-Purim), here are some ideas:

How about artificially aging all eighth-grade boys and girls who are not succeeding in our school system by making them look like they are in their early 20s? For a few hundred dollars per child, we can retain the services of professional makeup artists and instruct them to give the girls some laugh lines and add facial stubble and thinning hair for the boys. I think that would solve things for lots of the kids overnight at a tiny fraction of what we pay for tutors and tuition for at-risk schools. Why, you ask? Because let’s face it, some kids are just not cut out for a 12-14 hour school day. If restless adults in their 50s pace like caged tigers in shul with their reading glasses and arthritic knees after 30 or 15 or even 5 minutes of davening, why in the world would you expect their teenage counterparts with boundless energy to sit in a chair for a two-hour Gemara shiur? We all know that if these jumpy kids survive their miserable school experience, many of them utilize their vigor constructively and become amazing adults. So why not “get with the program” and just pronounce them grownups?

Come to think of it, this brainstorm might also help alleviate the shidduch crisis because there are more at-risk boys than girls. Making them virtual 22-year-olds would add far more young men to the shidduch pool. And these bachurim will be exempt from spending time in “the freezer,” so the benefits would be immediate. It would also save time and money. Think of how many more trees will remain standing now that parents and shadchanim will be printing and reviewing much shorter “shidduch resumes” for these kids.

To make sure this idea would fly, I decided to run it by some of the kids I work with. One of the teenage girls, though, was unimpressed and had some of her own ideas. They focused on losing the at-risk – and other – labels, declaring them outdated. She asked me if I would like to have myself or a loved one labeled.

I walked away thinking that she had a good point. Then it hit me. Why don’t we just cut out the labels altogether (you know, best bachur, metzuyan, at-risk), and go to a color-coded card scheme that kids can carry in the privacy of their wallets? This would be along the lines of homeland security colors (red is most at-risk, followed by orange, yellow you get the picture.) Better yet, let’s do white for best bachur all the way to black for highest risk. Or maybe the other way around, with black being the preferred color.

And speaking of labels, here is another idea. Why don’t we do a dual mentoring program? After all, we all know what happens in real life; all the “A” students become lawyers, accountants and comptrollers and wind up working for the millionaire “D” students who started businesses while the brainiacs were still in school.

So here’s the deal. We write a new type of Yissachar-Zevulun contract. Participating “A” students are matched with “D” students in 5th grade. The “A” students then tutor the “D” students and help them study for all tests throughout their school years. In return, the “D” students commit to supporting the “A” students while they are in kollel (I think one year of support for each year tutored is about fair), and then promise to give them training and a job when they leave kollel.

Talk about a win-win idea.

About the Author: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and founder and director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S.


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