For troubled teenagers struggling to make it through high school -- and through life -- the danger of not graduating, or worse, is real.
At Whitman-Hansen Regional High School, language arts teacher Brian Scully knows this all too well. That is why he applied for a stimulus grant for a YouthWorks program that would give these teens not only real world job skills but also would provide them with the opportunity to catch up on their school courses so they could graduate on time.
"We identify the most at-risk kids and give them a chance to make up academic credits and get a paying job," explains Scully of the YouthWorks program, called Summer Reboot Camp.
Scully has seen to it that the $105K stimulus grant the school received through the Brockton Area Workforce Investment Board to run the program is helping those teens who need it most. Some of those who participate
come from day rehabilitation programs, some are referred to the program by their guidance counselors but all of them have what Scully says are "multiple barriers" - trouble with school or with the law, or with succeeding at a high school level. Last year the program had 40 teens; this year it has 20.
"We focus on kids who need the help, those who need to get back on track," says Scully. "This wouldn't exist without stimulus," he adds. "And it's been really successful."
The program has two basic elements: a $400 scholarship applied to two school courses for the purpose of credit recovery and 50 to 70 hours of work experience within the community for which the participant is paid an average of $400.
But it is the additional features that help ensure this program's success for each of the participants. There are the smaller details that Scully discovered along the way that are important - such as separating the boys and girls, providing female-specific leadership, hiring recent college graduates who could develop relationships with the teens - and then there are the more significant additions that have become the heart and soul of the program.
Additions like the group and individual counseling sessions that are implemented
on a formal and informal basis. As Scully explains, the counseling is crucial to the success of the program. "We had a student who was an average worker and one day he showed up at work and tried to get himself fired," says Scully. "One of the counselors immediately noticed and took him aside. The counselor discovered that there had been a domestic incident in his home that morning. He found the student a solo job for that day and now he became our best worker. That's us at our best."
Much of the informal counseling happens over breakfast -- which Scully provides as part of the program. "Wendy [a counselor], deals with more problems at
breakfast than the rest of the day," says Scully. "The idea is they can unload and then they don't miss a day of work. Our motto is whatever it takes to get through the day. We want these kids to be successful."
Another addition just this year is the Community Service Learning project. Each participant pitches a community service project for the town and the two that are picked are managed by the teen who suggested it, including "hiring" other students in the programs based on their work reviews.
Scully also makes sure to hire successful YouthWorks
graduates to become "supervisors" the following year. One of those is Anais "Nini" Pena, who is supervising a group of teenage girls in cleaning up the gardens at the Whitman Middle School. Nini nearly didn't graduate high school. Pregnant at the time, she missed a year of classes and was very far from graduation. The YouthWorks program helped her make up some of those classes and now she is on track to graduate this coming December. Nini plans on attending Massasoit Community College.
"This is an incredible accomplishment," says Scully. "She is not someone who spoke of college before this."