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Workforce money to go for dropouts in St. Joseph County

By JOSEPH DITS Tribune Staff Writer SOUTH BEND — The Crossing alternative school has won federal funding to help up to 50 high school dropouts from St. Joseph County — ages 17 to 21 — to finish their degree and get training in a new career. Dexter Harper and Amanda Heritz hope to be among them. Both stopped coming to Adams High School last year, both juniors who’d felt out of place. They were in their third day of studies today at The Crossing, looking no different than the peers next to them who’d suggested they finish their high school degrees here. They focused quietly on math and biology exercises over the computer — all part of The Crossing’s self-paced curriculum. “It’s very calm and chilled,” Dexter said. If accepted, they’ll spend part of their day learning vocational skills. Dexter, 18, might pursue welding or construction. Amanda, 17, is interested in nursing. The new funding would allow them to learn those skills at either The Apprentice Academy or Ivy Tech Community College. The idea is to fill needed jobs in the region. First, the students must meet criteria that aren’t required of other students at The Crossing. The funding from the federal Workforce Investment Act requires that the students be low income and show other kinds of barriers, like coming out of foster care or having been involved in the courts. But most of the students here would qualify anyway, said Kathleen Randolph, president and CEO of Partners for Workforce Solutions, which has the contract to run the local WorkOne program. Students cannot drop out of another school just to join this program. They must already be dropouts, said The Crossing’s director, Rob Staley, who said he’ll be out recruiting young people at community centers. “The traditional schools have not served them well,” he said. “This is a second-chance opportunity. We don’t want to pull them out of public schools.” The students would spend three hours a day in The Crossing’s South Bend campus at Southgate Church. One of the school’s unique twists is its “family time,” where students sink into couches and talk about their lives and dreams. They sit below a sign that reads, “We love God, love people, love life.” They pray. But, said teacher Stacy Handschu, they can opt out of that if it make them feel uncomfortable. Students usually have no problem with it, she said. WorkOne funding is for one year and provides $3,000 per student per semester. That means free tuition for the students. Most of The Crossing’s students pay $25 to $50 a month, which is kept low because of scholarships, Staley said. He said The Crossing will still have to raise about $2,000 in scholarship money for the WorkOne students. That’s less than half of what it raises for other students. Staley said the new money will allow the student body to grow. The school already teaches 50 to 60 students per year from St. Joseph County, a generally younger group between ages 14 and 20. The students can earn either a high school diploma or a GED. After that, WorkOne will help the students to pay for extra education toward any kind of college degree or vocational certificate. Randolph said it will have to be in field that’s considered a growth area for WorkOne’s Region 2, which covers St. Joseph, Elkhart, Fulton, Kosciusko and Marshall counties. That includes advanced manufacturing, where computer technology is used to run factory machines. It includes the field of health information technicians, but it doesn’t include nursing because there already are enough nurses in the education pipeline, Randolph said. “We do career advising to help the students understand where the jobs are and what the salaries are,” she said. ——————————————————————————– Staff writer Joseph Dits: jdits@sbtinfo.com (574) 235-6158]]>