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New Hampshire Community College Offers School Dropouts a Second Chance

All American communities offer 12 years of free education. But not all American students complete high school. For various reasons, more than 10% drop out. Many of them come to regret this move as they find they often can't compete in a job market that requires a highly skilled and educated workforce. New Hampshire Community Technical College is one place where high school dropouts can get a second chance.

Ashlee was only 17 when she decided to drop out of high school. She was not motivated. She was always skipping classes and getting suspended. She says she thought it would be easier to quit school, find a job and be independent. That was 3 years ago. "I've worked regular jobs, at McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts," she says. "I lived off my parents. Then, I got sick of all of that and said I want to do something with my life."

Julia left school four years ago, and was also not happy with her life as a dropout. She couldn't find a job and got involved in some illegal activities. "I was on probation, I was sent to a few different places," she says. "Then, I realized that I actually want to better myself."

Frishta, 21, also left high school without getting her diploma. But she says it was not her choice. She grew up in Afghanistan and her education was interrupted during the war. "I didn't actually drop out," she says. "During the war in Afghanistan, I had to stay home because the Taliban wouldn't let women go to school. So, when we came here, I was 18. I couldn't go to high school, because I wouldn't graduate anyway."

However, Frishta now has her high school diploma and plans to attend college and study media, while Ashlee and Julia are studying to get a diploma in nursing. These young women, and more than 20 other dropouts are part of the Jobs for New Hampshire Graduates Program at New Hampshire Community Technical College.

"I think this program is unique because these kids come to us," program specialist Andre Jackson says. "They make a commitment. We don't force them to make a commitment."

Mr. Jackson says the courses are designed to help students compete in the workforce. "We offer them the occupational skills training to make them well-rounded employees," he says. "And, hopefully, some of these kids once they graduate, not only get regular jobs, but we also hope go to college and open their own business."

The training sessions are as varied as the students, according to program president Priscilla Parisien, and are offered at several campuses across the state. "Our occupational skills training varies from one campus to the next," she says. "The licensed-nursing program is pretty standard in all of our campuses. Automotive mechanics is also one that's a standard. We have a building construction program, a welding program and office skills technology program. We're also getting a baking program underway."

Ms. Parisien says students enrolled in this program usually change their perspective on education. "They will see education as being important by this experience here on the campus, that they will feel welcome and know that people really do care about them and really do want them to succeed."

That inviting college environment contributes to the participants' success, says Mary Scerra, vice-president of New Hampshire Community Technical College. "The high school dropouts have an opportunity to do some service projects," she says. "They have some opportunities to get some occupational skills right alongside the college students. We have some 22 programs on our campus. So there are a lot of choices for them as well."

This educational experience gives high school dropouts more than the skills and knowledge they need for a better job. Linda Simmons of the Jobs for New Hampshire Graduates Program says it helps improve their outlook on life. "I think they come in disenchanted and disenfranchised, not sure if they will once again feel like failures, or if they will once again be judged as inadequate," she says. "I think that the more time they spend with us, the more they feel the support and encouragement of the college environment. They start understanding that they indeed can be successful, that they can establish a new image and new goals, that they will be accepted by others. And many students leave very excited about a different life for themselves."

According to Priscilla Parisien, young people are the most important resource for any nation. So, giving high school dropouts a second chance through programs like Jobs for New Hampshire Graduates, she says, is the best investment a nation can make for the future.