Trisha Mullins never made it to high school. At 14, the Texas native, now living in Aberdeen, dropped out of school while in the seventh grade after she became pregnant with the first of three children.
The 22-year-old admits she didn't think highly of reading, writing and arithmetic when she was a teen. But now, she deeply wishes she had not passed up high school and learning.
"When you're young, you don't think about a good education," Mullins said. "When you're older, you think about what you missed.
"I just didn't go to school," she added. "I just thought I was it. . . .I was always in trouble."
But for Mullins there is a chance to recover lost ground.
For the last four months, she has been participating in the Youth Employment Training Program, a six-month course established to help high school drop-outs earn graduate equivalency diplomas and learn basic job skills.
About 900 county youths have completed the program since the training program started in 1978, said Deanna Grubb, the program's administrator in Harford County.
It's difficult to measure the program's long-term successes, Grubb said, because administrators track youths for only three months after they complete the courses. She estimates about 25 percent of those who complete the program go on to earn their GED.
The program's two goals are to boost youths' self-esteem and to provide them with a work ethic, said Grubb, who has worked on the program since it was formed.
"They need to get a good feeling about themselves," she said. "They'renot going to make it unless they get some guidance."
Mullins saidshe has had one job, as a cleaner, in the last eight years. Now, shesays, she's thinking of taking classes to become a paralegal after she completes the program. She dreams of becoming a lawyer.
In her slight Southern accent, Mullins said she had often thought about returning to school. But with raising her children -- now ranging in age from 6 years to 10 months -- she said she had no time.
Mullins married the father of her children two years ago and the family moved toHarford in 1986.
She concentrates on textbooks for English, science, mathematics and the arts to earn her diploma.
"I guess you could say these books start you out at the fourth-grade level and take you through the 12th," Mullins said.
She and her classmates attend four-hour sessions four days a week. They work at their own pace, butan instructor is on hand to provide assistance.
The training program, offered at offices in Aberdeen and Edgewood, operates on an annual $80,000 budget, covering the cost of classes for the instruction of 55 youths a year, Gruff said.
The program is subsidized by federal grants to the Susquehanna Region Private Industry Council, which has contracted Harford Community College to provide the courses.
The program, which is free to participants, caters to dropouts between 16 and 22 who don't have jobs. A separate program is available for older people.
In addition to basic education classes, the program shows students how to write a resume, prepare for interviews and land ajob.
Once participants complete the program, some go to college or take continuing education courses, Grubb said. Others join the military or get service-oriented jobs in restaurants, motels and shops.
These jobs usually pay minimum wage, Grubb said. Most students needfurther education to land jobs with higher wages.
Despite the success stories, Grubb said she has seen failures. Some program graduates end up in jail, and some end up on drugs.
And there are some youths who need additional help beyond the six-month program, Grubb noted. They must continue to work toward their GED in adult courses.
An instructor for 13 years, Beverly Kitchin said the job requires a lot of "mother stuff" in addition to teaching the three R's. She has had to do everything from cleaning infections to giving advice on sex.
"I think I can make a difference in a small number of lives," Kitchin said. "If I think I can help them get on track so that the rest of their lives run a little smoother, that's enough for me."
CherylDougan, a 20-year-old Aberdeen woman who dropped out of school four years ago, said she entered the program to gain the satisfaction of earning her diploma.
"I wanted to come here to get my GED just to have it," she said. "Yeah, I dropped out of school, but some day, I can say, 'I have my diploma.' "