At-Risk Youth . . . Aren’t All Our Youth At-Risk

Jeff Yalden is a youth motivational speaker and a teen mental health speaker having worked with youth, educators, and communities for 24 years in 48 countries.

Watch his video of his visit to Centennial High School in Ft. Collins, CO:

Looking back on my youth I think we were all at-risk. I didn’t realize it then as I do now, but what was important then is just as important as it is now – Self-Respect, Attitude, and Choices. I often use the mantra TAKE TIME TO THINK. I wish I had known that when I was in my early teens. At-risk youth is a term we use loosely. Too loosely when all our youth are at-risk.

We need great teen influences who give time to lead, inspire, and encourage our youth. We need great role models that teach our youth and instill in them that life isn’t fair, life is often challenging and to overcome obstacles and tribulations you have to rise-up and beat the challenges ahead of you. We can’t continue to give to our youth letting them know that life often hands you lemons because life doesn’t hand you lemons. You have to go and get the lemons and then have the motivation and take action to make lemonade.

On January 4, 2017, I had the honor of speaking at a high school assembly in Ft. Collins, Colorado. By the way we speak about youth being at-risk, this was considered one of those at-risk schools. It was an alternative high school. Having spent the day at Centennial High School, I would say these kids were anything but at-risk.

Four comprehensive high schools in Ft. Collins, CO send a select amount of teens to their alternative school which makes up Centennial High School. What I found at Centennial High School was a great leader in Mike Roberts. Mike, as the students call their staff by first names, is the high school principal and a relationship guy. His staff is motivated and about relationships and care about the whole student and not just their academic report cards. I met staff that had been there 20-30 years and helped make Centennial High School what it was. I met youth that were wise beyond teen years. Maybe they’ve grown up with out certain opportunities or had to navigate life because of an absent parent or having dealt with hardships, but I met youth that inspired me by their purpose. They all collectively seemed to want to bigger things for their world – a bigger purpose they had greater than themselves. It was inspiring.

Sometimes, I get frustrated with how our system is. Education is about test taking and we say, “Go to college!” What about those teens that aren’t ready for college? Is the cost of college today worth the value of college when you don’t know what you want to do, or better yet, when you don’t know who you are yet? What about the jobs and careers where you need a certificate or a trade apprentice such as a plumber, electrician, barber, mechanic, or some type of job where you serve your community? These jobs are very important, but often looked down upon because they’re considered blue collar jobs and as parents we think our children are too good for that. We want our kids to grow up and be better than us. Who are we to want more for them than they want for themselves? We should want our kids to grow up and be good people of character, noble citizens, and to live a fulfilling and successful life. To raise a family with good morals and values. Why does money drive us to want for our children? We’ve become a society focused more on success than service. Then again, what is success? It is different for everyone.

Centennial High School is a relationship based school that works with their youth. They are tough. They have high expectations and a 70% is passing. You have to show up and if you don’t you get terminated. There is a waiting list and each student, has to go through 6 weeks of “Boot Camp” before they are put into the halls. Why is there a waiting list if it’s so hard and they are at-risk youth? Because the reputation is that Centennial High School truly cares about the youth and works with them to graduate. They said that a D stands for “Didn’t Do It”, not “DIPLOMA.” These kids understand that it will be hard, but they also understand they are going to be treated fairly and be given an opportunity. It is understood they learn differently.

Don’t we all learn differently, though? Why do we put a label on our youth today? In the world we are growing up in we are all at-risk and we need very unselfish and serving adults that lead our youth to become successful in what our youth determine is successful for themselves.

As I look back, I still stand strong on three things for our youth:

1. Self-Respect
2. Attitude
3. Choices

Centennial High School is a model school for our youth that today’s education wants to give up on because they’re afraid they will bring down our test scores. Very sad and disappointing, but in Ft. Collins, Colorado, I want to applaud a community, a school board, and administrators, for their concern for our youth and making Centennial High School an option. It’s an expense, but over the years, it’s an expense that has served our teens perfectly.

Thank you Centennial High School for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the school climate and meeting some awesome teenagers.

I was thoroughly impressed with the students and the staff members.

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Author:Jeff Yalden, Youth Motivational Speaker

Youth Motivational Speaker & Teen Life Coach. Since 1992, Jeff Yalden has been mesmerizing audiences with his engaging style and passion. Jeff is a story-teller that every where he speaks, he guarantees he is real and in the moment, perfect for every audience. He is one of a kind. He's interactive and nobody pours as much energy and passion into their programs that Jeff does. Guaranteed, Jeff will be a defining moment and a highlight of your students lives.

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