Levan, a college dropout who graduated from Camden High, talked about when he first got to college he feeling like he knew nothing; so he dropped out and starting selling drugs: he explained how fast “fast money” can be by saying that he can make almost $200 in less than an hour. Camden has a population of 77,283 in which half is under the age of 24 (Watson, 2012). There are many different reasons why you choose the street life and start selling drugs, but the main reason that was found is that the youth have nothing to do. This problem stems from two different issues that the city has which is education and programs, if the city had more programs for youth it would equal less gang activity.
Camden has 26 schools in which 23 of them have a failing education system, as well as a 49% dropout rate (Merrill & Swan, 2012). There are many reasons why youth drop out of high school, but one of main reasons that they drop out in this city is because they feel like they are not learning anything. Youth feel that the teachers don’t care about them or their future, which is why some of them act out. (Smeltz, 2008) In an article about Camden City’s alternative schools Leslie Rodriguez talks about how she made the choice to go to East Preparatory School which is a part of the tuition free organization called Community Education Resource Network (CERN). Rodriguez said that going to Camden High was like jail and if she would have stay she probably would have never finished high school. Tim Merrill a Bethel pastor and the establisher of CERN also said in the article that “This is Camden where a lot of children are not learning.” (Smeltz, 2008) For one the city does not have the money of the proper supplies that they need for the youth and if they do they spend it on unnecessary things. Camden High is a perfect example; if you look at the outside of this school you will see the some recent renovation of the outside of the building. Although the building was being held up by scaffolding because it was crumbling the project cost about $21 million to repair. (Tamari & Katz, 2008) However what’s more important the outside of the building or the inside where the students need proper books and technology to learn? When students get off the bus they have to first have to go through metal detectors to make sure none of them have any weapons. However these same students don’t have enough text books to take home with them to do their homework. Instead of using the money to renovate the outside of the school or having metal detectors it could be used for more books or computers.
The money can also be used for more after school programs besides sports. When looking at the past school budget in 2009- 2010 the school expended $18,218 in before and after school programs, however it was not in the budget for the past three school years (Business Servies). The city also expends a great deal of money on summer school a rounding a little over $1 million and only $53,000 on textbooks. The should look at spending more money on textbooks instead of summer school, also they should look at funding before and after school programs because it will give the students something to do after school.
The city has two main programs one being Boys and Girls Club and the other being Urban Promise. However both of these programs you have to pay for your youth to attend and in a city of poverty most families can’t afford especially if you have a family of four. However the some parents can’t be to blame because most people living in this city are living in poverty so they have no choice but to work every day. Also the city has thousands of youth and the Boys and Girls Club and Urban Promise cannot possibly hold them all. However both these programs are good because it keep the youth off the streets. The programs also provide lots of different services, for example the Boys and Girls Club has five core programs which include character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, art, and sports. In the 2011 Annual Report the club has about 1,900 members (Club, 2011). The report also features success stories for example Patrick was a lifelong resident of Camden who used to get into mischief. He discovered the Boys and Girls after receiving a sport scholarship to college and he need to get on the right track. With the help from a mentor at the program Patrick successfully graduated college and now works at the Boys and Girls club as a youth development professional. Patrick says that he can only thank the Boys and Girls Club for helping him become a professional, productive, responsible adult. (Club, 2011)
Urban Promise also provides some of the same services but they also have spiritual growth and two schools. Urban Promise serves about 600 youth that live in the city of Camden. Urban Promise has two different types of schools, Camden Forward School and Urban Promise Academy. Camden Forward School is a private Christian elementary and middle school with grades kindergarten to eighth. It states in the mission statement that “The school challenges students to attain high academic standards, life skills, personal integrity, and Christian worldview.” The Urban Promise Academy a private Christian high school fulfills the needs of students who have not met their academic potential in regular school settings. With a low teacher to student ratio, family style learning environment, and experimental and expeditionary learning the academy boast a 100% graduation rate and 90% of the graduates enter college. Urban Promise also has after school programs that 300 youth attend and 450 youth participate in a six week summer camp. Although Urban Promise does cost money they do offer different sponsorships for youth if the parents cannot afford to pay. If Camden had more programs for youth to go to like this it may eliminate most of the problem of gang activity because the cycle wouldn’t start with youth. (Promise, 2008-2012)
When speaking to former drug dealer Jacques from the city of Camden I asked why he decided to live life in the streets. His answer was because he wanted money. He said “When you the only one out of your group of friends or in school that doesn’t have name brand shoes or clothes it gets to you.” He also talked about how his mom and dad couldn’t afford to buy him the finer things in life so he bought it himself. Jacques also said that drug dealing gave him fast money. Levan didn’t want to get a regular job and he explained to that no job can pay him the amount of money that he makes drug dealing, one pay check that you make at a regular job can be made in one day. He as well as Jacques said that the drug dealing life is dangerous and once you’re in it is hard to get out, he also explained to me about the “corners.” Meaning that everyone has their own spot or corner to stand on and you can’t sell anyone else’s because there could be a possibility that you can get shot or killed. At the end of the talk with Levan I asked him if ever planned giving up the drug dealing business and if he went to a different high school would you have stayed in college. Levan answer was “When I make enough money I will probably stop drug dealing but it’s going to be hard to get out. As far as going to a different high school if I had the chance I would have and I probably would have a different future.”
Camden has a lot of potential that is not being used. If the city would invest more time and money into having more programs for youth inside and outside of school it would break the cycle that youth are falling into as well as decrease drug activity. Even if they cannot create more programs for youth they should expand the ones that they already have because there is a lot of success that come out of them. Although Camden’s school district has improved especially after Camden High being ranked as one of the worst schools in New Jersey in 2010, they should work on having more after school programs for youth. Hopefully with the changes that Camden is already making and future changes will decrease youth choosing to go to the streets.
Business Servies. (n.d.). Retrieved from Camden City Public School: http://www.camden.k12.nj.us/departments/division.jsp
Club, B. a. (2011, September). Annual Report of Boys and Girls Club Camden County. Retrieved from Boys and Gilrs Club Camden County: http://www.bandgccc.org/BGCCC%20Annual%20Report%20FY10.pdf
Merrill, T., & Swan, T. (2012, September 5). Is There Hope to be Found in Camden . (M. M. Coane, Interviewer)
Promise, U. (2008-2012). Our Programs. Retrieved from Urban Promise: http://www.urbanpromiseusa.org/ourprograms
Smeltz, A. (2008, July 8). Camden Alternating Schools face funding crunch. Retrieved from Excellent Education for Everyone: http://www.nje3.org/?p=1417
Tamari, J., & Katz, M. (2008, December 22). Camden High Repairs on hold New Jersey Officials have already delayed a project to repair the facade of the “castle on the hill”. Retrieved from philly.com: http://articles.philly.com/2008-12-22/news/
Watson, N. (2012, November 14). (K. Getty, Interviewer)