Unharnessing Youth at Quoddy - NYA - 1938

When funds for the completion of the Passamaquoddy Tidal Power Plant were cut off, the model village of Quoddy, built to house the engineering staff, was left vacant.

These housing facilities were transferred to the National Youth Administration, and a committee composed of Colonel Henry M. Waite, Cincinnati engineer and municipal expert, Mr. Walter A. Grannen, official of the International Typographical Union, Mr. Ralph Glanders, a Vermont manufacturer, and Dr. Floyd W. Reeves, the chairman of the President's Committee on Vocational Education, worked out a program to utilize the facilities of this village for the benefit of relief youth.

In June 1937, 225 boys from the five New England States and New York arrived to begin a five-month work experience and training course. Each boy had been selected in his home community by a committee consisting of representatives of industry, labor, and education.

The Quoddy NYA project is sometimes called a vocational finding school. The aim is not to turn out skilled workers but to give boys a chance through actual work experience and related training to make an intelligent choice of the occupations for which they show interest and potential ability.

Each boy is allowed to choose three different occupations in which he wishes work experience, and he divides his five months' time equally among the three. The work of maintaining the village properties offers this wide range of work opportunity: Auto Mechanics, Photography, Blue Printing, Photolithographing, Cafeteria, Pipe Fitting, Commercial Plumbing, Commercial Art, Recreation, Electricians, Road Construction, and Grounds Maintenance.

Maintenance Lineman, Sheet Metal Machine Shop, Steam Boiler Operating, Mechanical Drawing, Steam Fitting, Medical Welding, Painting, Woodwork. Every boy spends half of each day from Monday to Friday in the shop or on the job, and spends the remaining half-day in classrooms where he studies subjects related to the work he is doing.

For example, a boy has been working on the removal of a wooden platform and the installation of a concrete floor in a shower room. In the classroom, he studies the tools, equipment, and materials he is using, slope measurements, measurements of volumes of concrete, methods of mixing and pouring, the operation of a mixer, and the spelling and definition of terms used in the work.

Forty per cent. of the boys attending the first Quoddy session, ending in October 1937, found jobs in private industry. This remarkable showing in a period of shrinking employment opportunities must be attributed partly to the special efforts to place these boys made by the local committees who selected them.

Quoddy boys have a well-organized recreational program. They elect their own village mayor and councilors and edit and publish a newspaper. They receive subsistence, some clothing, and wages of $20 a month. This rate of pay at Quoddy is a special administrative exemption and is far higher than at other NYA Resident Centers.

This letter, which a New York State boy at Quoddy sent to his mother, gives a graphic picture of life at Quoddy: Apartment 4, Kittery Apts., Quoddy Village, Eastport, Me., January 16, 1938.

Dear Mother:

It seems we are using the apartment houses instead of the dorm. And are they nice! Three rooms and bath. The third room was kitchen and dining-room, divided by little china closets or bookcases. We use the living-room for a bedroom, of course. It holds three cots, the bedroom two. Frank and I are together in the bedroom, the other three have the larger room.

They keep the boys from the same towns together, and as far as possible, by State also. There are fifteen from New York, the rest are from New England. So besides us three from —, we have a boy from Syracuse and one from Long Island.

Mr. Wilson put me in charge when we left, and in Albany, the state director put me in charge of the whole NY crew! I carried the tickets, rounded them up when we had to leave, and did the talking for the bunch. Some guy, this little boy of yours!

Yesterday, we had intelligence tests. My rating was 115. Straight dope from one of the counsellors. No more of this running down my mentality! Incidentally, part of it was on mechanical ability. For some reason I was high there, too.

As this is the wrong season for landscaping or tree surgery, (the ground is harder than concrete and covered with ice that you couldn't cut with anything short of a blow-torch,) I am starting off with carpentry. It's going to be very interesting.

The boys are building a new gym. A big building covered with iron sheathing. Think of the work to be done inside, the floor and all. It seems you can't learn just one particular trade here. The government can't run a trade school. It's a place for vocational guidance.

You try a number of things, learn them all well enough to get a job, of course, and then you can take the one you like best and specialize in it (outside). I am also taking reproduction on account of the drawing and blueprints. Later when the season opens, I can swing into the landscaping.

There's plenty of room for it here. They made swell buildings but didn't do much to the ground. They have a fine library with plenty of reference books on all the work they have here. There are certain hours when we have to go over to the library and study up. I should pick up quite a lot of stuff.

It won't hurt me to be a carpenter or any of those things. Might keep me from starving someday. Some of the boys who were here last period were asked to come back as Junior Leaders to help the rest of us. They're a nice bunch of fellows.

In Albany, we were served coffee and sandwiches right in the station by girls from the NYA office there. Then a photographer took pictures. I'll try to arrange to have the paper sent you. I saw "Artist and Models" night before last at the free movie we have here. Not bad.

There was a dance in Eastport but none of my gang went. Eastport likes us. People speak to us on the street and everyone is nice to us. After all, this is different. They know what the NYA is. They have some. It would take only one bad move from the boys to change that, though, I guess.

Not much danger of that, however. Eastport has its laws and Quoddy has its rules and they match nicely. The town closes at twelve and we have to be back at one. How's that for a fit? The guys don't seem anxious to pull anything, though.

On the whole, I like the place, and the fellows are O. K. The counselors are very nice, all of them. We even have some women counselors, single and fairly young. I was issued a mackinaw of sorts here, warmer than my own.

The inside is blanketing and the outside a heavy khaki denim. Looks well enough, and the Maine climate can't touch it. It is quite a bit below zero now, but the cold doesn't affect anything but exposed parts, ears and nose mostly.

Not even my hands, much, and I dash around all over without gloves. There is almost no snow. Haven't gone skating yet, but I will. There is a regular rink here and we have hockey games. That's not for me, I'm gonna be a figure skater!

Hopeing yu ar wel i remane yur loveing sun,

In May 1938, more than 100 NYA Resident Centers had been established in 22 States. Forty-five hundred young people from poverty-stricken rural homes were earning enough money to cover their living expenses and to have small cash balances left.

By raising as much as possible of their own food and by doing all their own work, these young people were able to cut living costs to as low as $12 to $20 a month each.

The resident programs as we have described them in Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, and Wisconsin by no means cover the entire scope of this new NYA activity. Oklahoma has 514 girls and boys working, earning, and learning in eight Resident Centers.

In South Carolina 230 girls from isolated rural areas live in co-operative camps, where, under competent supervision, they combine practical work and study in home economics, crafts, beauty culture, and office work.

One hundred and twenty South Carolina boys attend four agricultural Resident Centers. In Ohio, 144 boys remodeled an abandoned CCC camp at New Philadelphia, where they are developing Schoenbrunn State Park under the Muskingum Conservancy District.

They are building a slag-surfaced road a mile and a half long, quarrying rock, building bridges, creating picnic areas with stone fireplaces, shelters, benches and tables, and sanitary facilities. Trails, stone-steps, and lookouts are under construction.

One group operates a sawmill. Another has planted a 10-acre tree nursery. In the spring of 1938 they set out 500,000 seedlings. The trucks and cars used in the project are maintained and repaired by boys interested in auto mechanics.

All the boys in this camp attend small group classes in first aid, hygiene, and citizenship. An educational adviser arranges special classes in surveying, electricity, mechanical drawing, auto mechanics, and other related studies for youth working in various fields.

Two hundred and nine Texas boys and girls are NYA resident students at three State colleges and at the Luling Foundation Farm, a 1,200-acre experimental agricultural development. At the Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College in Waller County, Texas, 93 Negro boys and girls are receiving intensive training for domestic service.

The boys are building an NYA home economics practice house, and their related training consists of practical work and instruction in the care and repair of household woodwork, auto mechanics, dry cleaning, landscaping, butler service, and machine shop practice.

The girls at Prairie View assist in the preparation and serving of meals in the regular college dining room, work in the dormitories, and assist in the school laundry. Home economics instructors conduct laboratory courses in household service, cooking, care of children, household arithmetic, and household management.

All the first 18 Negro girls who completed a four-month domestic work and training course at Prairie View found full-time private employment. Efforts to place these same girls prior to their resident training had been unsuccessful. In New York State, several new Resident Centers for the training of girls for domestic service are being organized.

There are two new Resident Centers in Kansas, one a homemaking unit at Kingman, and the other at Fort Hays State Teachers College, where 76 boys and girls are working and learning the fundamentals of agriculture, shop work, construction, clerical occupations, and home economics.

In Mississippi, 90 white boys and 130 Negro boys and girls are resident students in five State schools. The University of New Hampshire has a new NYA Resident Center workshop. Twenty boys in Iowa are remodeling buildings at Tabor College, which recently reopened after a suspension of nine years.

Alabama, California, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia all have NYA resident units. Fifty more Resident Centers are opening during the summer of 1938.

At present, most of these centers are units of State educational institutions where youth may take advantage of already existing equipment and teaching facilities and, by their labor, expand the institutions' physical plants and facilities.

Many State directors report that they are working on plans for additional Resident Centers to open in the fall of 1938 when the regular school year begins. Resident Centers are complicated and difficult to organize.

Sponsors must contribute the larger portion of the materials with which youth are to work, as well as a good share of the instruction. NYA usually employs supervisors to establish personal relationships with the resident youth and to coordinate their work and study.

Some parents have been reluctant to permit their children to go away from home for six or eight months, even though the latter will probably make several visits back home during the training period. These parents, in the lowest-income group, have not had the tradition of financially more fortunate families of sending their sons and daughters away to school.

More important to them is the fact that, when a relief youth goes away from home to a Resident Center, the family does not receive as large a share of his NYA earnings as it would if he were employed on a project in his home community.

After paying for subsistence, the youth at a Resident Center usually has only $5.00 to $8.00 left each month. If he were working on a NYA project and living at home, his gross income would be about $15, and most of this would be turned over to his family.

If he were at a CCC camp he would receive, in addition to transportation, clothing, and subsistence, a cash payment of at least $30 a month, of which $20 or $25 would be sent home to his family. Wisconsin has solved this problem:

The State relief administration increases family allowances when youths go to Resident Centers. In Georgia, an average of $10 a month above subsistence costs has been allowed to resident youth so that the family does not feel deprived of his earnings.

Perhaps the earnings of NYA resident youth may be increased so that they may send a little more money back home. The Resident Program is in a fluid state. Generally the centers are not meant for boys and girls with college abilities or college ambitions.

The Student Aid Program should answer their needs. Resident Centers are intended for boys and girls who have managed to finish only the sixth or seventh or eighth grade—or possibly a year or two of high school—and who have had few opportunities to learn better ways of farming or homemaking or to get a basis of experience and knowledge in a trade.

Often these youth also need to catch up in such elementary studies as reading, spelling, and arithmetic. Unless a Resident Center is established in connection with a vocational school, it is desirable that special courses of study should be organized for NYA youth.

Their interests, their capabilities, and their needs are not fulfilled by regular academic classes. This often means added work for the school teaching staff. In some cases, regular college students assist in the instruction of NYA resident students.

The States that have expanded vocational education through Smith-Hughes and George-Deen teachers furnish much helpful instruction and supervision for NYA centers. WPA adult education teachers, Red Cross personnel, and State health service workers often contribute their time to teach resident students.

At some Resident Centers a three-month training period has been tried. This has proved too short. Six months seems to be the minimum period in which youth can adjust themselves to new ways of living and get sufficient work experience and training to be of benefit to them.

In many States, a sound health program for NYA workers on local projects, especially in rural areas, has proved difficult. Administrative funds cannot cover the costs of general medical examinations. Clinical facilities for treatment are totally inadequate in many localities.

Boys and girls from relief families can seldom afford the services of private doctors and dentists. At a Resident Center, the health of young people receives careful attention. When a center is established at a school, the regular medical facilities of the school are available to the NYA youth.

When centers are set up independently, a health program is considered a necessary component. In every Resident Center that we have visited, the supervisors and often the youth themselves have emphasized the important values which youth get from their new environment.

"The changes in these young people's appearance in even a short time are amazing. They begin to be proud of clean fingernails, well-brushed hair, and good personal hygiene habits," one NYA supervisor said. "We notice that our young people change their diet habits," another supervisor told us.

"I know several farm boys and girls who never drank milk before they came here. That's not as strange as it might seem, though, because most of their families can't afford to buy cows and few of them know how to care for cattle.

Not many of the young people here were accustomed to eating green vegetables." At another center, a supervisor commented: "Our resident students are very much interested in their health classes and discussions.

They haven't been aware of the value of good home sanitation in the prevention of disease or the need to isolate members of the family with communicable diseases. Many of them have never heard of diphtheria inoculations.

" The social values of co-operative living are impossible to measure. Most resident NYA youth elect their own self-government councils. Each youth has responsibilities and duties to the entire group. The individual must adjust himself to the integrated work and social life of the Resident Center. All these experiences seem to offer a practical training in intelligent citizenship.

The NYA Resident Program is still too young for a full objective evaluation. It may be the beginning of an important new educational contribution to underprivileged American youth.

It makes room for the boy or girl who is too old to go back to a regular school, who is often distrustful of a regular school or for whom the regular school may be unsuited, who cannot pay for trade school training (even if there were a trade school near his home), and who must earn full subsistence while preparing to make a living.

At the NYA Resident Centers which we visited there was a quiet intellectual excitement that was contagious. We had a sense of being in a research laboratory in which an experiment was developing that might throw new light on a major human problem and point new ways for its solution.

Betty and Ernest K. Lindley, "Unharnessing Youth at Quoddy," in A New Deal for Youth: The Story of the National Youth Administration, New York: The Viking Press, 1938, pp. 99-108.

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