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Public Papers - 1990

Question-and-Answer Session With the Youth Collaborative Mentor Group in Cincinnati, Ohio

1990-01-12

Sister Jean Harrington. I have told the President that he has a very unique group of people sitting in front of him. He has 10 Taft High School students with their mentors or their tutors, 2 college students who are in college as a result of our Last Resort Scholarships, and a student from Porter Middle School and one from Bloom Middle School, and a teacher from Bloom Middle School who has coordinated the Earn and Learn Program. And I know the President's eager to hear about your experiences, and I imagine you're eager to hear about some of the things he does, too. So, it's open.

The President. When you either ask a question or tell me what you're doing, which I hope you'll do, just say where you are in life and what school you're in -- college or mentoring or whatever. It would be helpful, and I think everybody here would be interested.

We've had a good briefing on this unique program. I keep talking about something called a Thousand Points of Light. At first, we had one guy who said, ``Did he say `a thousand pints of Lite'?'' [Laughter] And I said, ``No, it's a Thousand Points of Light.'' And that really means involvement of one person in the lives of others -- helping. Then I come out here today and have had this wonderful briefing on how this program, in many ways, is just the epitome of a Thousand Points of Light -- a lot of people helping kids get going or stay involved or pull themselves up.

And so, I don't know who wants to be first, but I'd be glad to answer any questions. I see somebody nicely put a picture of Barbara up there. She is very active in education because, I'll tell you what, for you kids, you old kids, even -- [laughter] -- Ed, sorry about that -- no, but her thing is literacy. And she's been involved in it for a long time. And I understand, of course, that -- obviously, much of this program, as it starts with these young kids -- let's have everybody be literate. But I wish she were here, because the Sister had asked about her very generously.

Yes, sir?

Social Attitudes and Values

Q. Mr. President, I'm a mentor here at Taft High School. The question I have is a very difficult one. And it has been my perception in working with the young people that there is a sense of hopelessness, to the degree that it almost stunts the importance of the programs that we have. If they perceive that, in the community at large, no one really cares, and if I do my best, if there's a legitimate opportunity -- my question is: What do you feel a U.S. President and administration can do to help create a more hopeful attitude or atmosphere or environment for our young people and those that are -- --

The President. It is a tough question. But you know, the more I think of it -- and you're the experts, you're the guys with your sleeves rolled up, and you're the ones that are trying to learn -- being right there in the front line, I would have to concede, gives you perhaps a better insight of this than I have being back there in the White House.

But as I look at it, a lot of it is family. A lot of it has got to be our -- in some way, encouraging the strength of a family. And this is an awfully philosophical answer to a rather specific question. But I happen to think that some of the despair and some of the discouragement comes from the dissolution or the strains on the American family. Now, there are some answers to that, obviously. If we are successful in working with the local communities in the antinarcotics battle, I think that'll help enormously. If programs like this are successful -- and this is why this whole subject of education is priority -- if programs like this are successful, I think through education itself kids will begin to get hope and see that, comparatively, as you look around the world, we're pretty well off -- even those who are not doing very well. So, I guess what I can do about it is to encourage what I think of as fundamental values. I happen to be one who has learned in one short year that faith is important. And I have a philosophy, Ed, of what happened, a theory.

We came out of the Vietnam war; it was very divisive. We had that post-Watergate period that increased a certain national cynicism, it seemed to me. And that spills off on young people -- maybe on their teachers. So, we're now coming into a new period. We look around the world, and we see the darnedest, most dramatic changes moving towards the values that have made this country the greatest: freedom, democracy, choice to do things.

So, I think we can now, with programs like you're engaged in, point to people coming our way around the world because they see we do have something very special. I'm not sure that's a totally satisfactory answer, but I get back to fundamentals -- to values. We're trying in the education field to stress certain fundamentals. I had a marvelous meeting yesterday with a bunch of educators and businesspeople, because we've challenged the Nation's Governors to come up with educational goals. But they're going to get back to fundamentals of reading and writing and math, science, and now geography.

But on balance, I am optimistic. And yet I know there's an awful lot of reasons to be discouraged in part of some individuals. But I think I've got to keep an optimistic stance as President. I've got to keep talking about fundamental values. I've got to keep trying to do what we can in terms of not only funding educational initiatives but restructuring. So, we get back to ways that we can compete. And in the process, these kids will have a better opportunity.

Federal Role in Education

Q. First of all, sir, I'd just like to commend you on your efforts for the war on drugs.

The President. Tell me who you are and what grade, or what staff -- --

Q. What grade? I could kiss you, sir. [Laughter]

The President. Go ahead.

Q. Sir, I'm an adult volunteer mentor -- --

The President. Volunteer. Isn't that great?

Q. -- -- here at Taft High School. Yes, sir.

The President. Well, you do look like you're young. Come on, you are.

Q. Well, thank you, sir.

The President. I won't put you on the record here. [Laughter]

Q. What I'd like to say is: I'd like to commend your efforts on the war on drugs and say that we here as a people are behind you 100 percent. But what I would like to concentrate on is education. It seems to me that the drug problem that we're having is a result of the feeling of hopelessness in the educational programs. And my question is twofold. First is, a lot of the inner-city kids -- even kids that aren't inner-city -- can't afford higher education, and if there is some kind of Federal program that would lend itself to possibly giving every American a chance to attend higher education at no cost? Because we're pricing ourselves out of jobs and out of the world market.

The President. Let me put this in perspective -- the answer. I'll bet you can't guess within 10 percent what percentage of the funding -- the State, local, Federal -- comes from the Federal Government. I'm not going to put anybody on the spot, but it is 7 percent. That means that 93 percent comes local and State. And then that doesn't even count the volunteers. It doesn't count what Ed's doing to help somebody -- what you're doing to help somebody -- which is impossible to price, because not only do you bring a certain number of hours a day but you bring a dimension for your own dedication that you can't purchase. You're doing it because you believe in something and you want to help somebody.

So, the Federal role is properly proscribed. It's not going to be much bigger. I think what the Federal Government can do is the things I was talking to him about. I think you're going to see a step-up on Head Start, which doesn't get to your question, but I think helps where a Federal Government has a very specific and, I think, extraordinarily legitimate role in helping these early kids at the most formative ages. There are Federal programs that help on the Pell grants and things of that nature, for the Federal Government assists at the college level. There are certain tax things we can do to encourage savings -- college saving bond program which we've now got into effect that helps people, even those that don't have a lot of money saved -- interest-free -- to educate the kids.

But I don't believe it is the Federal role to say the Federal Government will pay for every kid to be educated in college. I don't want to usurp the legitimate role of the States, the private institutions of the volunteer sector. And also we have very serious constraints on Federal funding. We're operating at a deficit of -- this year, the target is to get it down to billion or billion.

Who's next? Which one?

Award Presentation

Q. I would like to present a plaque to you.

The President. Sure. Come on. [Laughter] Somebody's got to hold my -- this is getting overweight here.

Q. Mr. President, on behalf of Robert A. Taft High School, the Excel Mentors Program, and the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, I would like to present this plaque to you, which says: ``Presented to President George Bush from the Excel Mentors Program, the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, and Robert A. Taft High School, Cincinnati, Ohio, on January 12th.''

Mentor Program

The President. Now, Vickey, what about you, though? Now, because you -- or, do you -- having fouled this one up, I mean, do you go here?

Q. Yes, I do. I'm a 10th grade student.

The President. Let me ask you something. And I don't want to put you on the spot. But I mean, generally, when you and others that are your friends in school -- do you share my optimism about the future, or are you a little discouraged because of the hurdles ahead?

Q. I'm not discouraged at all. I think the person has to, for one, have self-confidence, which is something that my mentor, Andrea Hughes -- she's given me a lot.

The President. Is she helping you? Well, now, how does that work? I mean, does she come over in school and get you aside and say, ``Here are the things I think you ought to concentrate on,'' or do you do it at your house? Maybe Andrea can tell us.

Q. We do a variety of different things together. Sometimes, we come over to the high school, and they have programs such as the Excel Day, where the mentors and the students get together and talk about different issues.

The President. In groups or just one-on-one -- you and Vickey?

Q. The celebration is in a group. The one-on-one occurs throughout the month at any given time. Sometimes, we go to things such as plays together, or if there are particular functions going on in the city that I think will help broaden her growth and experience, we may attend those functions. We sometimes go out to dinner and talk about various different issues -- current events and things of that nature. Sometimes we talk about what's going on in school. If she's getting prepared for a particular examination and she may need a direction on where to go, I work with her on that aspect. There's a variety of things that the mentor does with the student, and it's an individualized program -- that portion of it. But also, we get together as a group, as a family, because we, too, believe that building a family atmosphere and environment encourages the children to go forward and to try to succeed in school.

The President. Does the mentor program concentrate on areas where a kid doesn't have the benefit of a two-parent family and all, or not necessarily?

Q. We involve everyone, those of single-parent families and also those of two-parent families, to get the parents involved in the program, too. So, we don't limit it or exclude anyone. Again, they all are welcome. What we do is, if we have children who may be in single-parent homes and need to have special tutoring, we have tutors in this particular program that we lend to the students.

The President. That's on a subject, like the kid's doing lousy in math and -- yes. Who else has something to tell me about?

Q. On a subject-type of basis, yes.

The President. Who else has something to tell me about? Christie, you're looking nervous back there.

Federal Role in Education

Q. Mr. President, do you plan to continue or increase funding for educational programs?

The President. I think it'll be up. But as I say, there are constraints on it. There are constraints on what the Federal Government can do in almost every area of social need. Parts of the Federal budget will clearly be up in education. And I've expressed at the Governor's -- and I've heard this from all of the Governors, incidentally -- the need to do more in Head Start. That doesn't take care of Stacy's problem. But you have limited resources -- do the best you can with them. So, you'll see it up in total, and you'll see it up in some categories, but not as much as if the Federal Government weren't operating at this big deficit. But it'll increase.

Shoot.

Q. I have another question.

The President. But to the degree it can't -- Christie, here's the key point -- to the degree it can't, programs like we're talking about here, programs like this, programs where individuals involve themselves in the lives of others, become even more important. I happen to think that the more involvement we have at the local level, the better. I don't think it is the role of the Federal Government to tell Ms. Powell -- it is Ms. Powell, isn't it? The school -- what's the school's -- --

Q. Dr. Powell.

The President. -- -- Dr. Powell exactly how the curriculum ought to work in the schools in Cincinnati -- some guy sitting in a great, big bureaucratic building in Washington. I don't think so. I think that you ought to have controls of those things. I think we can have national goals that says, look, we're moving into a different era. Math is going to be more important. Obviously, reading has got to be fundamental, if you will. So, I think we can help work with the Governors to set goals, but the control has got to remain, in my view, my concept of education, at the local and school board and parent and mentor and tutor level -- and, obviously, teacher level.

You had what they call a follow-on. What is it? Are you finished? [Laughter] Who's next? Any of you guys?

Q. Mr. President, the two main goals of our mentor program is to help the students raise their self-esteem and also to help them to do better in the required testing in order to go into college. Now, we have right now on the burners -- we're trying to have implemented into our program here at the school the ACT - SAT [American College Test and Scholastic Aptitude Test] preparation in the curriculum. And this is one of the things we're working on. The other, in raising self-esteem -- we're trying to build into our young people the concept that they are of worth, they are somebody, and that there is hope. What I'd like to ask you is: Is there anything that you can do to lend support to a concept like this on a national level?

The President. Well, kind of like what I was talking to Ed about. I don't think it's a specific program, but I think it is encouragement. I think it is having confidence in people and not picking up this mantle that the young people are all off on some drug horizon and can't have -- given up. It's the emphasis on -- risk of repetition -- on fundamental values. And I think it's in that kind of exhortation, rather than program, that a President can be helpful. I don't think you can design a curriculum to lift the self-esteem of a kid. It's got to come from peers. It's got to come from family. It's got to come from dedicated volunteers or workers who are saying, Hey, you are somebody. You can amount to something. So, it's in that broad, philosophical range.

Mentor Program

The President. Tell me, though, how are you involved in this? I think people would be interested -- I know I would -- in just the background. Just use you as a case example. I was going to give Andrea a chance. But I mean, are you just suddenly a guy that's concerned and want to pitch in, or how does it work?

Q. That's exactly how it starts.

The President. Yes.

Q. It starts with a general concern for the well-being and productivity of our young people, and we come in as volunteers. This is my mentee.

The President. Is he?

Q. And we work with Anthony, encouraging him. He's already taken his ACT test, and he's improved his scores. And these are the types of things that we do.

The President. How do you find Anthony? I mean, somebody say, ``Hey, we've got a guy over here that really would like to work with you and needs some help''?

Q. We have a coordinator here at the school, and that person links both the mentor and the student together. And that's how it's done. And we're in the process of doing recruiting. Anyone who wants to help us -- they're welcome to come on down.

The President. Well, I'd like to use this opportunity and this marvelous exposure to encourage this voluntarism, encourage this participation.

Let me ask him. I don't want to put you -- you don't have to. This is not a classroom, where you've got to say something. [Laughter] But I mean, from your standpoint, are you doing better because this gentleman is helping out and stuff?

Q. Yes.

The President. Do you feel like you've got somebody that cares?

Q. Yes.

The President. What was it like before? You were just drifting around and didn't -- --

Q. I was pretty much the same. I always had my act together, you know? [Laughter]

The President. You did have it together? [Laughter] Well, that's good. A lot of guys that didn't. But how about the chemistry? Does it ever work on the mentor program that you have to shift around because the -- --

Q. We've been pretty fortunate; that has not occurred. You asked the question, how do the students get into the Excel Mentor Program. There are several ways. They could be referred by a teacher, a counselor -- parents even call. And also, students are self-referred. They want to be a part of this because they see that it is a helpful program. And they're excited about being in the program.

The President. But do the ones that need it the most see that? I mean, the guys that are really having the most trouble out there -- maybe the drug scene, maybe the tough home situation? Do they say, hey, I need help, or do you have to go seek them out and say, Wait a minute, you're screwing up here, and if you don't -- --

Q. A lot of times, those individuals are referred.

The President. Yes.

Q. Mr. President, my name is Jim Brock. My favorite statement is, I'm a Taft High School graduate, and I'm in the mentoring program. I am a homeroom mentor, and that is how we address the majority of the students: through the homeroom mentoring program. During that time, we tell the students that there is help available for you. If you need a tutor, there is help available for you. If you need a mentor to give you a one-on-one approach, that is also available for you. And that is largely how we address the students.

We go out into the community. We have an outreach program where we go to many of the social organizations, we go to churches, we go to any community organization that will let us speak with them. We do that, and that's how we are branching out into the community.

The President. Do parents welcome the mentor approach, or do they say, wait a minute, you're getting in our turf a little bit?

Q. I know my mother welcomed Andrea a lot. And part of my getting into the mentoring program was because I was having trouble in history. And we went to Ms. Harris concerning my history. And when I got Mr. Sales as my history tutor, then she also asked me did I want a mentor? And I agreed to it, so that's how I met Andrea, was through my mother, because I was having trouble in a certain subject and we had wanted to get me a tutor. But as I got my tutor, I also got a mentor.

Q. And a part of that mentoring program requires that the parents meet with the mentors to determine whether or not they will be comfortable with this relationship with their child or the children. So, at the onset, the parents get involved in that decisionmaking process. And it has worked well. And Vickey's mother and I get along very well, and we sometimes get together and talk about issues that may have affected Vickey throughout the school year and get together on how can we help her deal with some of the issues that she's facing.

One of the issues that we had to address early on was the fact that she was coming out of a junior high school into the high school, and it was a new experience for her. And she was sort of getting steered in the wrong direction by being less academically inclined and more interested in what was going on socially. So, her mother and I worked with Vickey to get her back on the right track. And since we've done that, she's been doing very well academically.

The President. Who else?

Federal Role in Education

Q. Mr. President, my name's Maryanne. I am a sophomore at Xavier University. Before my freshman year of college there -- college tuition is outrageous, and without the Youth Collaborative I couldn't have afforded the -- I guess it's around ,000 a year now. And I think that I've benefited greatly because Xavier is a private institution, and I get a more personal education that way, instead of having to go to -- not that U.C. [University of Cincinnati] isn't a good school, but -- --

The President. No.

Q. -- -- it's more of a -- not as one-on-one.

The President. That's right. You choose as best you can what you think is best for you.

Q. Please?

The President. No, I say -- I can understand that.

Q. Yes. I mean, for me, I like to ask questions when I'm in a classroom, and the Youth Collaborative let me do that, let me follow the education that I wanted. And they help a lot. And I know that they're helping a lot of other college-bound students because we just opened a college information center, the Youth Collaborative did, down at the Lazarus in downtown Cincinnati. And it's kind of a guidance counseling center for students who maybe don't feel comfortable with their guidance counselors or who have been disconnected from high school guidance counselors. And it's a great program. They have videos of colleges, and they have scholarship information, and they have counselors that can speak to you and ask you where you want to go with your life, and stuff like that -- help you to make decisions.

The President. Well, that's very helpful and interesting. And it gets back to Stacy's -- whose role is it to give you a shot, give you a chance, give the kid she's trying to help a chance? And the answer is: I think it's everybody's. I think the Federal Government has a role in these programs. I think there are these programs -- there's a friend of mine in New Orleans, Jay Taylor, who guarantees a certain class in a certain school, you're going to be educated. You do your job, you lead a good life, stay out of the difficulties that some kids face on narcotics or whatever, and we guarantee you -- private, nothing to do with State, nothing to do -- just helps do what Stacy was asking -- how do we do this? Or what you're saying, that tuition is high. And these programs are springing up all over the country.

And you take them and multiply them in terms of dollars, and it's amazing what it results in. So, back to what somebody asked me -- who was it -- about what can I do. Ed, I think I can do more to encourage individuals and volunteers all over the country to -- and it's far more than a Federal Government can do, far more in terms of total dollars brought to bear on the program. When you price out what each person here is doing and then try to multiply that, if you could project this program around the country, it would mind-boggle you in terms of Federal budget.

So, maybe I'm getting a little inspiration here that I need to make this point louder and clearer to others around the country.

Sister Harrington. Unfortunately, Mr. President -- --

The President. I'm being thrown out. I know. [Laughter]

Sister Harrington. The clock moves too rapidly. And so, in the name of all of the people here, I'm going to say thank you for them. And we're sorry that we can't get questions from everyone.

The President. Well, maybe we'll get another shot here. But I will follow this with keen interest and express to those who are giving your time like this -- I'll tell you, you're doing the Lord's work. Because I am not pessimistic about the young people in this country, and I'm convinced that we can compete. I'm convinced that we can win this damn battle against narcotics that is just decimating a lot of families. And I get inspired by this. So, I am very, very grateful to all of you for what you're doing. Thank you very much.

All right, off we go.

Note: The President spoke at 12:52 p.m. in the library of Robert A. Taft High School. In his remarks, he referred to Sister Jean P. Harrington, director of the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative; Ed Sales, volunteer and Excel homeroom mentor; Vickey Williams, Christie Thompson, and Anthony Crockett, students at Taft High School; Lee Etta Powell, superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools; Stacy Reid, mentor volunteer; and Tara Harris, school community coordinator of the Excel Mentors Program.

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