Dec 04, 2013 10:49am
Youth Re-Engagement gives students a second chance
November 19, 2013 - 11:36am

This story is about the Youth Re-Engagement program. For more on student David Henry, click here. 

For the first two years of his high school career, David Henry didn’t pass any classes besides art and P.E.

He skipped school and had a tough home life. He didn’t fit the mold of an ideal high school student and did not graduate.

But now, Henry is set to earn his diploma and his degree this spring after three years in the Youth Re-Engagement program. He hopes to teach art to high school and college students after completing a degree at Western Washington University.

Henry isn’t alone. There are 193 other students in the “U3” program and each one has a unique set of circumstances that brought them there. The one universal trait of these students is that they’re here to work hard – because for many, it’s their last shot.

Youth Re-Engagement is a program for students between 16 and 21 that don’t have a high school diploma. Students are assigned case managers and go through a quarter of foundation classes before they start to work on their degrees. Case manager Rebecca Hungerford sees herself as a “cheerleader” for her students as well as sometimes having to be the bad guy.

Student’s school is paid for by the program, which is a partnership between EvCC, the Monroe School District and Sea Mar Community Health Centers.

Students in the Youth Re-Engagement are expected to maintain a 2.0 GPA and attend class regularly. Students who don’t perform well or fail any of their first quarter foundation classes are dismissed from the program. These classes include a math class, a computers class, a communications class and a career development class.

Dismissals are common, said Henry, who observed that about half of the kids who started off in the program with him were gone by the end of the second quarter. In the last month, 17 students withdrew.

“Inevitably, what you’re left with are students that see the opportunity,” Henry said. He calls the Youth Re-Engagement an “amazing gift.”

Only driven students tend to succeed – the students whose parents push them into the program tend to “self-select” out of the program, said Hungerford. “The main thing is that they have to want it.” Henry agrees, saying that “if you don’t become a good student … you’re out.”

Julio Palomino graduated last spring and is starting at Western in January. Without Youth Re-Engagement, he never would have gotten an education.

“It saved my life,” he said. “High school wasn’t working out for me at all … I just stopped caring.”

Being able to take classes later helped Palomino – who had trouble sleeping – to succeed instead of dropping out. Without Youth Re-Engagement, he would not have been able to attend school. 

Henry is in the same situation. His parents never talked about school when he was younger and had to learn to work hard on his own. He sees a connection between parental involvement and those who are successful in high school. He compares this with his girlfriend whose parents always pushed her; she never had to re-learn how to be a good student.

Although Henry now calls the program a gift, he had reservations about joining because it seemed like it was for “bad kids.” But Youth Re-Engagement caters to any student that doesn’t fit in a typical high school. Many students are homeschooled, said program manager Patricia Sehlke.

Both Palomino and Henry spoke very highly of their case managers, who helped them out whenever there was a problem. Hungerford even went to the length of giving a student a ride to school on the day of a test.

“They stood behind your back for anything and everything. They helped me a lot. The whole entire experience was beneficial,” Palomino said. “Going to school was like going home.”

The program isn’t for everyone, though. Sehlke said they are somewhat successful with helping their kids, but with at-risk youth, success is defined by the individual.

“I feel like [the Youth-Re-Engagement program] is a vessel rather than something that shapes people,” said Henry.

Jason Dougherty just left the Youth Re-Engagement program, saying over Facebook “I have a tendency to neglect myself in favor of things other people expect me to do.” He plans to see a psychologist and to stop making plans for the future until then due to his anxiety.

“I think the program itself is great for if you have a goal that you actually want,” he said. 

There are still spaces open for Winter Quarter enrollment. The Youth Re-Engagement offices can be found in Rainier 217. 

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