Job Corps, county schools join forces

Instead of dropping out, at-risk students can get job training, earn diplomas

October 14, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Sun reporter

A new pact between the Anne Arundel County school system and a local Job Corps center will allow at-risk high school students to earn diplomas through evening classes and get job training during the day, making many of them ready for the work force by the time they graduate.

The partnership with the Woodland Job Corps Center in Laurel is part of the school system's effort to hold on to students who might have dropped out, disenchanted by the traditional high school setting and schedule. In the long run, such an effort could boost graduation rates among some of the district's poorest students, among whom the graduation rate is now about 75 percent.

"We know that school can't be one-size-fits-all. Not every student succeeds in our traditional model," said Kathy Lane, the district's director of alternative schools. "We're always looking for new paths to graduation."

The agreement was born out of a two-year discussion and sealed last month.

Officials hope to start with 20 students this year from Meade, Glen Burnie and North County high schools. Woodland admissions counselors have spent recent weeks in the three schools, helping counselors learn more about the Job Corps center and talking to prospective participants.

Job Corps, a federally funded program that offers training for low-income people ages 16 to 24, grew out of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty in 1964. The Woodland center in Laurel is one of two in the state - the other is in Woodstock - and 122 across the country.

Anne Arundel County students involved in the program would start their days at 8 a.m. at the Job Corps Center, receiving hands-on training and certification in one of 10 areas, including nurse's aide, clerical work, building maintenance and carpentry. From two to four nights a week, the students would attend evening high school at Meade or Glen Burnie High, racking up credits in key courses necessary for graduation. Woodland has agreed to provide transportation for the students, and Lane says the partnership won't cost the district a dime.

"We have little in the way of creative alternative education in this county. ... This partnership is terrific, and it'll mean the difference between these students being dropouts and graduates," said school board member Eugene Peterson, who has been a vocal advocate of greater investment in alternative schools. "Alternative schools aren't just for troublemakers anymore. We have to face the fact that traditional high schools don't work for every student. Not everyone dances to the beat of the same drummer."

Aside from this Job Corps partnership, the district also offers career training for students at two Centers for Applied Technology, in Severn and Edgewater. These career-technology students split their days between classes at a traditional high school and training at the centers. Other alternative education centers include the Mary E. Moss Academy in Crownsville and J. Albert Adams Academy in Annapolis, which help serve students with academic, emotional or behavior problems.

Talks with Woodland started in 2005, after the company that runs it applied to run a charter school out of the center. The company ultimately withdrew the application, but school system officials and Job Corps leaders remained interested in finding a way to join forces.

Job Corps officials wanted a way to grant their clients a traditional high school diploma since as many as 80 percent come to the center without diplomas. Meanwhile, the school district was searching for ways to hold on to students who were considering dropping out because the traditional high school didn't meet their academic needs.

After several meetings and steering drafts of an agreement through layers of bureaucracy in the school district and the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees Job Corps, the parties signed an agreement last month.

"Between the two of us, we're looking for new ways to expand high school options for students, and we're both trying to help these students get that second chance," said Edna Primrose, a former Woodland director who helped negotiate the deal. "A diploma really is the starting point for lifelong learning."

ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

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