YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Nakaia McRae believes the biggest obstacle to getting through high school is oneself.
“Your teachers don’t give you a grade, you earn your grade,” said the senior from Chaney High School. “Some teachers make it a little bit harder, but they’re preparing you for the rest of your life whether you see it or not.”
Students may face times where they want to go out and have fun, but have to stay home and study for a test or complete an assignment, or risk not passing a class, said McRae, who aspires to be a defense attorney after studying prelaw at Central State University.
“It’s all up to you and your commitment to school and what you decide to do with it,” McRae said during a panel discussion Monday evening.
The panel was part of the City Club of Mahoning Valley’s Views and Brews series and was co-hosted by The Business Journal as part of its Brain Gain program. McRae joined four other students from Chaney — J.R. Tellington, Tylen Hawthorne, Ke’Lynn Dean and Ja’Kiyah Rushton — to discuss their aspirations and goals, obstacles to achieving those goals and resources in the community that helps them along.
While the students agreed they must rely on themselves to achieve their goals, there is a mentality in the area that makes it difficult, they said. For some young people living in the Youngstown area, they feel as if they won’t make it, whether it’s in school or finding success in employment, said Hawthorne, who studies interactive app and game development at Choffin Career and Technical Center.
“That’s one of the main reasons why a lot of kids don’t go to college,” Hawthorne said. “They feel like it’s a waste of money and if they do go, they might fail or the money they spend won’t be used [well] because they may not find a job.”
Although it’s a mindset that they see reflected in their peers, the students have found ways to maintain their motivation through their struggles. For Hawthorne, hearing stories of those who have found success in Youngstown inspires him to pursue his goal of working in video game development, he said. And coursework at Choffin is giving him the skills he needs to take the first step toward doing what he wants to do for the rest of his life, he said.
There are many success stories that come out of Youngstown, but no one knows about them, McRae said. So, people assume Youngstown is a bad place, she said.
“Youngstown is not a giant hole,” McRae said. “Youngstown has a lot to offer and it’s a good city. It’s just the mindset that makes it bad. Youngstown is not a bad place, it’s an amazing place and I just want everybody to know that.”
McRae and Dean are involved with Inspiring Minds Youngstown, which they say provides mentors to help keep them on the path toward their goal. It also gives them an opportunity to pass on their experiences to younger kids in their community.
Dean says having other people of color as teachers and mentors goes a long way to connecting with youth facing struggles such as single-parent households and mental health issues — problems Dean has faced in his own home. Dean plans to study education at Youngstown State University and become a teacher in Youngstown City Schools so he can use his experience to connect with younger members of his community, he said. It’s something he’s already putting into practice by volunteering with kids around the community, including mentoring youth with Inspiring Minds and working as a counselor at Camp Fitch.
Inspiring Minds has been particularly beneficial to Dean, he says, because the mentors stress the importance of graduating high school and moving on to college.
“I’m glad that I found the Inspiring Minds program because without that I’m not sure how I would’ve managed,” Dean said. “It’s just preparing you for after high school. Not a lot of schools do that because they’re focused on getting you out of high school.”
All five students on the panel said they eventually would like to come back to the Youngstown area to live and work. Rushton plans to major in psychology at Ohio State University and is getting a head start through its Young Scholars program with Youngstown City Schools.
If she follows through with the college classes she’s taking now, she can earn a scholarship to OSU, she said.
However, course material can be a challenge, forcing Rushton to find her own way of learning things in schools, she said. She says one-on-one tutoring has helped her with difficult material and teachers at Chaney are always accessible.
McRae has been taking college courses since her freshman year of high school through Upward Bound, a college readiness program at YSU. For six weeks during the summer, students in Upward Bound “take college courses from an actual professor at the college,” she said. In addition to preparing McRae for the college experience, the program gives her college credits she can take with her after graduating high school.
“I would say I have maybe six college credits already with Upward Bound,” McRae said.
Adding to the pressure of graduating high school and getting accepted to a university is the fact that many of the students would be the first generation of their families to attend college. Their families support their dreams, they say, including Tellington, who plans to leave to attend the University of Kentucky to play sports. Should sports not work out — he currently plays three at Chaney — Tellington said he would want to come back to Youngstown to pursue a career in construction.
“What motivates me is knowing that my parents have my back,” Tellington said.
Pictured: Jeremy Lydic, content manager for The Business Journal, moderates the panel with Chaney High School students Tylen Hawthorne, Nakaia McRae, Ke’Lynn Dean, J.R. Tellington and Ja’Kiyah Rushton.
Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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