Alumna Diana McCue Talks WISE

DianaMcCue with students-J. WallaceOn February 20th, Diana McCue, a former Groton student of the Class of 2007, revisited the Circle in order to deliver a talk about her involvement in the Workforce Investment for Successful Employment (WISE) program at the Latin American Youth Center in Columbia Heights, Washington D.C.

The WISE program reaches out to disconnected youth and guides them in acquiring a GED, a test that is equivalent to a high school diploma, as well as in getting employed.

“Disconnected youth” is a term that refers to youth who neither attend school nor have a job, and are therefore “disconnected” from society. Through this program, Diana meets a variety of young people who face many different kinds of barriers, such as teenagers who are parents, homeless, or are in juvenile justice systems. Most of her clients were born in D.C., but she also works with a few immigrants from El Salvador, Ukraine, and West Africa.

Diana not only teaches GED test preparation classes, but also has duties as a job developer and a teacher in a job readiness class. As a job developer, Diana convinces retail companies such as Homegoods, Marshalls, CVS, and Home Depot to hire the youth in the program. In her job readiness class, she prepares her clients for resumes, job interviews, and customer service certifications.

During her experience at the Latin American Youth Center, Diana saw many cases of young people completely changing their lives by realizing their potentials. She said that because of the environment these youth grew up in, they assume that they are expected to enter the vicious cycle of drug dealing and felonies and shy away from overcoming their barriers.

She claimed, “If I asked my clients what they think they would be doing in five, ten, or twenty years from now, my clients will say, and I’ve heard them say this, probably in prison or debt.”

From her experience, however, she realized that confidence was the only missing piece to solving their puzzles.

Remembering a student she had in the past, she said: “He managed this unbelievable turn around just through a change of his mind and a change in what he believed he could do. And what he said to me, you know, after he got his GED was: ‘If I had known I was capable of this, I would have done this a long time ago.’ “

The youth in the WISE program usually  hear about this opportunity by word of mouth. Diana said that they usually voluntarily come in large friend groups and only in some cases sent to the facility by their probation officers without their consent.

Nevertheless, motivation of her students has been a challenge for Diana. This year, the program started with 20-25 students in her class, but only 5-6 attend regularly.

Other than motivation and low attendance, she also faces difficulties in her students’ attention, attitude, and conflict resolution.

Although there are tough moments, Diana believes that the results are always more rewarding. In fact, she even gave up her chance to work at the Peace Corps, a long-time dream that she had, in order to continue her work and continue learning at the Latin American Youth Center. She also mentioned how service allows her to have invaluable genuine interactions with people whom she would have otherwise never known.

Diana stressed that it is crucial to attempt  to have these genuine interactions with the people when participating in community service.

She emphasized, “Putting yourself in a situation where you get to know people who are different from you, that is the most important thing you can do, because often those people don’t have the opportunity to come to you and get to meet you. So you need to go to them.”

In Diana’s case, she admitted that she was not very active in community service at Groton. However, she said that she was deeply influenced by the school’s motto: cui servire est regnare.

Even though Groton School students may not have the time to directly participate in service on a day-to-day basis, she said that the school is effectively planting the mindset that recognizes the importance of service in our minds, which is crucial at the high school stage.

Finding her job at the Latin American Youth Center preceded Diana’s strong determination for service. Although she had experience teaching English to students abroad in Hungary and the Czech Republic as well as domestically in Washington D.C. and Portland, she had just recently graduated Georgetown with a psychology and art history major and had no license to teach disconnected youth.

Throughout her years at the WISE program, however, she clearly learned and experienced so much that she is expecting to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in social work beginning next year. She hopes to teach in refugee camps in the future and eventually be involved in policy and advocacy in social work.

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