Right to Be Ready Part 3: The Roads to Readiness

The Forum for Youth Investment
Stephanie Krauss
May 26, 2015
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In eighth grade I was in honors classes and played a sport every season. I took French, played in the orchestra, sang in the ensemble and held a lead role in the school play. I enjoyed school, did well, felt engaged and connected.

Then over the summer I stumbled into depression. I was confused, took it out on my body and started struggling with a hard-to-kick eating disorder.

That fall, instead of starting high school with my classmates, I entered an eating disorder clinic at our local hospital. For five months I attended an outpatient program instead of school. Academics, athletics, friends, arts and music were all ripped away. Days were spent at the hospital, and then I came home. Once or twice a week a tutor came to my house with a packet of seemingly random work. I don’t remember the work. I do remember the tutor who got struck by lightning and the tutor who loved extra-buttered popcorn from the movie theater.

My learning was permanently disrupted when the hospital took the place of school. School, once a place of connection, now seemed impossible to reach.

The hospital took care of my eating issues, but didn’t fix some of my bigger struggles. Once discharged, I returned to eating regularly, but also turned to drugs and alcohol, and started skipping school.

Instead of going to 10th grade, I went to a drug and alcohol treatment center. Like the hospital, rehab took the place of school. There was, however, one key difference: Now, instead of having a tutor to help with classwork, I met with a volunteer who came whenever he was free and offered only to help me study for the GED.

The day I met him in rehab was the only time I got in trouble. When I heard that he had nothing but GED resources, I hid. I camped out in a bathtub and wasn’t found for two hours. This guy became a physical symbol that marked my forced transition from a disrupted education to an irreversible disconnection from school. No one pushed me to reconsider high school. My only option was to take and pass the GED.

By 16 I was happier, healthier and sober. But only two years after being an honors student who sang a solo in the school play and was starting center of the lacrosse team, I was signed out of school for good. I was a high school dropout.

My road to readiness was not some linear conveyer belt moving me through the education system. It was a road with forced on- and off-ramps. I got off the road for the hospital, then back on, then off again for rehab. Once in rehab, the on-ramp back to school was closed and I was not given an alternate route. Even if I had found a way, I would have been credits and classes behind and unable to graduate with my friends.

Today, my GED is the only diploma hanging in my office, even though I have other degrees to be proud of. It reminds me of the day, at 16, when I sat scared in a small classroom in downtown Trenton, N.J., with a bunch of adults taking a test for which I felt unprepared. My just-passing score served as my ticket into college and a better life.

I marvel at making it as far as I did. Even as a smart and self-motivated kid, it was seeming impossible to continue my schooling when faced with certain life challenges. Why didn’t the healthcare or prevention systems do more to keep me on track to graduate? Why wasn’t my school more involved in helping me reconnect? Thankfully, I had whatever it took to pass the GED, go to college and move on with my life.

This raises the question: What really makes us ready? The credential, or the competencies that we hope come with the degree? How would I have fared if I hadn’t picked up critical skills along the way from my community and family, or the places where I worked?

My experience is more common than you might think. I have met plenty of young people whose schooling has been shaken up, stalled or stopped because something happened in their personal lives. Some struggled and stayed in school; others left, spending time in other systems or in no system at all. This struggle should not determine a young person’s destination.

Let’s let go of the idea that when young people stay in school and when schools are high-performing, then all youth will be ready. Young people learn wherever they are – and life doesn’t always let a young person stay on one road to readiness.

It is time to figure out a way for young people to learn and grow, no matter what happens and no matter where they are. There are many roads to readiness and plenty of road hazards to navigate. As we collectively work to improve traveling conditions, let’s covenant to help each traveler find the way, no matter the road or route.

stephanie krauss

Stephanie Malia Krauss is a Senior Fellow at The Forum For Youth Investment focusing on issues of youth readiness and competency-based education. She was previously President and chief executive officer of Shearwater Education Foundation.


This article is part of the Right to be Ready blog series, posted under The Readiness Project, a joint effort of The Forum for Youth Investment and SparkAction. Find more blogs and expert views in The Readiness Project Insights section. 

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