On the job, but still in the classroom

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Kayla Bunge
Saturday, August 29, 2009
— Brad Cude was bored with school.

He went to his classes. He listened to his teachers. He took home his homework.

But that's about it.

"My freshman and sophomore year, I was lazy I guess," Cude said. "I didn't do much in class. I didn't do much homework. It was rough. I didn't do so well."

The former Milton High School student no longer is bored with school, however, because he goes to class and goes to work and gets paid for his time in a unique program called Second Chance.

The private business-public school partnership program is geared toward high school juniors and seniors who are in danger of not graduating. Students spend time in the classroom and on the work floor, getting an education and on-the-job training. They earn a high school diploma as well as complete an apprenticeship in manufacturing.

"They really have an opportunity to learn in an applied setting," said Marty Gholston, academic director for Second Chance. "They can see right away the application of what they're learning to their future."

Cude, 17, is completing his senior year in the program at Generac Power Systems in Whitewater and knows his time in the program should not be taken for granted.

"I'm more motivated because I know this is my second and last opportunity to get my diploma," he said. "I'm more motivated to do my work."

Preparing for work

Second Chance was developed in 1996 out of a concern among businesses and schools that students—especially those that did not continue to higher education—were not well enough prepared for the workplace, Gholston said.

Generac Power Systems in Jefferson and the Watertown School District forged a partnership to offer an alternative for students who learn better in a more hands-on setting, she said.

Second Chance as it operates today started in 2000, Gholston said. A half-dozen business sites, including Generac in Whitewater, and about a dozen school districts, including Whitewater, Milton and Palmyra-Eagle, now make up the program, she said.

The program has evolved, Gholston said. It not only focuses on preparing students for the workplace, but also on allowing them to earn their high school diploma, she said.

Struggling in school

Second Chance is not meant for every student who struggles in school, Gholston said. It is geared toward students who are in danger of not graduating because they don't have enough credits, she said.

"They want to earn their diploma, but they're frustrated with the process they have to go through to get it," she said. "They're disengaged from traditional classes. They might do well in their tech ed courses, but they really struggle with their other courses."

Guidance counselors at participating schools each year identify a number of students who could benefit from the program, and Second Chance holds an information night for those students and their parents, Gholston said.

The enrollment process mirrors the employment process. Interested students apply for the program, and all students who apply are interviewed to find out if they "fit the model," or are committed to getting their high school diploma and committed to obtaining work experience, she said.

"We don't want to take students out of the high school if they can be successful there," Gholston said. "We mostly accept very credit-deficient students who are at risk of dropping out."

Students who still are interested—after an information meeting, an interview and a tour—and their parents then meet with a Second Chance representative, she said. During the home visits, families learn the specifics of the program, including what's expected of students who participate, she said.

Second Chance accepts six to eight students at each work site, Gholston said.

Stepping up to the plate

The Second Chance school year starts at the same time as the regular school year, Gholston said.

Students spend about two hours each day in the classroom, learning the basics from certified teachers, who are employed by CESA 1 and have experience in alternative education, she said. Students spend about six hours each day on the work floor, two hours in on-the-job training and fours hours in production, she said.

"They put in a full day," Gholston said.

Students are paid for their work, and in many cases, they are paid for their time in the classroom, too, she said.

Not only do students in the Second Chance program earn their high school diploma from their home high school, but they also complete a Youth Apprenticeship in manufacturing through the Department of Workforce Development.

That means they have a basic education as well as a set of manufacturing skills, Gholston said, both of which make students more marketable to future employers.

Second Chance students follow the business calendar, not the school calendar, which means they give up their summer vacation, their winter break and their spring break to go to school and work, she said.

"The only days they aren't there are the days the business is closed," Gholston said.

Students like the intimacy of the program—hands-on settings, smaller class sizes and one-on-one instruction. But don't think the students are treated any differently, she said.

"They are asked to step up to the plate and be a part of that workforce," she said. "They're not given special privileges (because they're students). They're treated like regular employees."

Gholston said students are keenly aware of the pivotal role the Second Chance program plays in their success.

"They say they learn so many things: responsibility for their own actions, being accountable, being part of a team," she said. "It's not easier than high school. It's different."

Cude said he would have had to take summer school and "really buckle down" if he were to graduate on time taking the traditional route.

"But I'm not sure I could have done it," he said.

Cude said Second Chance has engaged him and motivated him in a way traditional high school could not.

"It's more real-world stuff you have to do here than you have to do in regular school," he said. "It's just different."

Opening their eyes

Gholston said Second Chance students learn there is a lot waiting for them after high school.

"Students who come into the program are frustrated with high school. They don't know how they're going to graduate," she said. "But what we tell them is if they come into the program and are committed to doing the best work they can … they don't need to worry about getting that diploma. They'll get that diploma.

"It opens their eyes to opportunities after high school," she said.

Cude will complete the program in the spring. He plans to join the Marines or enroll at a technical college and train to become a diesel mechanic.

He said his experience at Second Chance even has him thinking about pursuing higher education in a few years.

Last updated: 11:03 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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