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When Education’s Second Chance is Slim to None

By Annie Gilbertson | Published 03 Aug 2011 02:55pm | comments
Terrence Morgan and Ashley Macon at YouthBuild

The unemployment rate for Washington County is nearly twice the national average.  For high school dropouts, jobs are even more difficult to come by.  The answer is often a GED, or a high school equivalency diploma.  However, MPB's Education Reporter, Annie Gilbertson, reports that despite an incentive-driven approach, the sole program helping adults prepare for the GED in Washington County is struggling to make a difference. 

YouthBuild is an organization that pays high school dropouts to get serious about getting their GEDs and a career.  20 bucks a day to crack algebra books and high school novels. There are also service learning projects (building housing for the poor is common) which helps teach a basic understanding of carpentry, electric wiring and plumbing. 

23-year-old Terrence Morgan passed his GED last month with help from YouthBuild near Hollandale.  Morgan started having serious problems in school after his mom died. He stuck with it, staying through senior year, but still couldn't pass the high school exit exam.

MORGAN: "Before I attended YouthBuild I was just sitting around doing nothing. Like last year, I wasted all that time of my life, when I could have been up here getting my GED.”

But while Terrence found success at Hollandale YouthBuild, he was one of only four in a class of 45 that managed to get a GED through the program this year  - far below the number of GEDs awarded at the other YouthBuild program in Mississippi, where about half the participants pass . 

But earning a GED is only half of the goal of YouthBuild: they also provide students with on-the-job construction training.  So conceivably, even those who don't pass the test could still learn some basic skills.

Ashley Macon dropped out of high school in ninth grade after she got pregnant.  It took her two years to prep for and pass the GED with the help of YouthBuild.

MACON: "I knew I needed an education because I have a daughter who is one-year-old, going on two-years-old next month. Failure was not my option."

Ashley admits that the $20 a day was a huge help, and it didn't interfere with other aid she received as a young mother. But she also said in a county with few jobs and even fewer careers, a lot of her classmates were just showing up for the money or not showing up at all.

MACON: "We basically were in here. We went to a house and the guys painted."

GILBERTSON: "How come only the guys painted?

MACON: "Because none of the girls came that day."

Now if participants don't show, they forego their 20 bucks.  The bigger issue Macon alleged is that  only one day of jobsite training was provided.  It's the jobsite work, or service projects, that legitimizes the $20 each participant gets for every day they come.

Jobsite training is crucial to funding the program gets from the Corporation for Volunteer Service and the Department of Labor which denied Youth Build Hollandale funding last year.

Sangeeta Tyagi, Chief Program Officer at YouthBuild USA, says they are ready to take corrective action.

TYAGI: "I'm aware that the numbers are low, which is why our technical team assistance team has designed a week long sort of, you know, coaches going down there to help them with their certification and their GED."

The corporate intervention will take place this month, and Tyagi is hoping many of the young people who didn't find success in the program this year will come back for a second year. After all, it’s the only adult GED program in the county.  But, it's an ambitious goal: almost half of individuals who attempt the GED once and fail, give up and don’t try again. 

CORRECTION:  YouthBuild Hollandale is not the only GED, job training program in Washington County.  YouthBuild Greenville has served for two enrollement cycles.


Terrence Morgan and Ashley Macon at YouthBuild



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