In a year without summer school or employment prospects, the D.C school system is giving junior high and elementary school students entertainment and a positive view of work through its Widening Horizons Career Orientation program.
Now in its 15th year, the program begun by Dorothy Goldberg, wife of former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, has evolved into a year round program offering job internships, cultural enrichment and employment information.
Widening Horizons is planned and administered by the D.C. school system and directed by George Clanton. Funding is presently provided by the Department of Labor.
Clanton estimates that over 800 students from four Title I junior high schools participated in the 1976-77 school year program. Over 350 students are expected to participate in the summer session that's open to all age levels. The four participating schools were : Shaw, Stuart, and Garnet Patterson and Kelly Miller Junior High Schools.
In preceding years, the program was instituted in 10 of the city's 16 Title schools. All of the D.C. junior high schools have asked for them. However, Clanton said constant funding struggles have forced them to deny services to many of the most needy students.
"Title I schools are used for compensatory education. These are the youngesters most in need of basic information of the work world," said Clanton. "They're somewhat behind in basic (educational) skills (and) we find they're the same ones that have difficulty in finding a job.
"Quite often people do not realize they're not equipped with basic work skills until they're thrown into a work situation," he explained. By then, he said, it's too late to correct the problem.
"We want to get youngsters who are uncertain of careers and provide them with career options and the training necessary to those jobs. Then we want to take them into the community and show them what's available."
Once a decision is made, Clanton said, students can then enter a Career Development High School (formerly vocational schools) for training.
If students wish to continue schooling beyond the high school level, they're encouraged to so, he said. Conversely, "If the youngster wants a job that requires only a high school education we do not discourage that," said Clanton. "We just make sure he knows what his work opportunities are."
The administrator staunchly believes students will make viable career choices if given proper information. The program's goal is to disseminate that information to a number of students as early as possible. At present Widening Horizons is the only group offering career counseling at the junior high school level.
The program is conducted in three phases: the introduction (seventh grade and summer sessions), self-assessment (eight grade) and preparation for high school and the future (ninth grade).
In the first phase, students explore many occupational and career opportunities by going on tours to different government agencies.They learn how their current school studies relate to specific careers through class seminars and lecture programs helf with representatives from community institutions.
The future prospects of careers, entrance requirements and salary expectations are also discussed.
The second phase explores the first in depth. Instructors help the students assess their capabilities in relating to the work world, and encourage them to develop a special interest. Graduate students, used as counselor aides, assist instructors throughout the year.
By the third phase many students chose tentative careers.Students in the Future Occupations and Careers for Urban Students program (FOCUS) can become volunteers in agencies related to their chosen careers. The D.C. fire department and the National Day Care Center are two agencies that have cooperated in this effort in the past.
The Work Experience and Career Exploration Program (WECEP) provides part-time, paid, work experience for 14-and 15-year-olds who have decided on careers.
But Widening Horizons is not all work. There is some play.
J. L. Barnes, principal of Walker Jones Community School has developed a summer fishing program for students. Willis Thomas Sr., the program's treasurer, has instituted a tennis program. It is the first time such activities have been made available to the youngsters:
When not fishing or practicing their backhands, youngsters can engage in community beautification projects. In this program developed by George Clanton, youngsters plant flowers, cut lawns, and clean out neighborhood lots to help beautiy their community.
Board member Barbara Luchs said many volunteers from community agencies work with the kids.
"We also encourage the parents to come on the tours whenever they can," she said.
Tours, such as the one recently made to the Museum of African Art, are a program highlight. Many youngsters take them over and over again. Donna Smith, 20, went through the Widening Horizons program when she was in Garnet Patterson Junior High School. Yet she still hasn't gotten enough of the tours.
"It was nice. We had some interesting trips and they really made me look at careers. I was always interested in communications," said Smith, who will major in communications at Immaculata College this fall, "But I guess having Widening Horizons in English made me get down into the roots of it."
Carolyn Cox, 15, found out about the program from her mother. "She works for Widening Horizons," said Cox. "This is my second summer in the program. I think it's nice be cause it gives you a chance to see people in work. You get to see what they really do."
For 12-year-old Gary Jackson the program has meant fame.
"Last year I won a trophy for a Black history report," he grins. "That was the first trophy I ever won."
Also benefitting from the program are the counselors. Ambus Harper, 25, a Howard University graduate student in psychology and former Michigan resident, said the tours have been his first exposure to many aspects of D.C. life.
"It has helped me get in touch with the D.C. Community," he said. "The program is one many communities need because children don't tend to find out what's available to them. This exposes them." And exposure, said Harper, is necessary to make decisions.