Classes are back in session for Snohomish County’s schools, with about 115,000 students continuing their paths to graduation, college or other training, careers and meaningful lives in their communities.
Some, however, veer from that particular path, with many diverted from their educations by a range of circumstances that can include poverty, conflicts at home, substance and alcohol abuse, pregnancy or a lack of guidance and support.
But being knocked from the path toward a high school diploma, which unlocks the door to advanced training or college degrees, can profoundly limit job opportunities, particularly those offering pay that can support a family.
For eight years now, the WorkSource Youth Center, affiliated with WorkSource Snohomish County, has put youths, ages 16 to 24, back on that path. Its offices and classroom space on the second floor of Everett Station, enjoying a fresh coat of paint and new carpeting and furnishings, earlier last month hosted 2nd District Rep. Rick Larsen, who met with staff, agency partners and students.
While a major focus, the Youth Center’s work goes beyond providing a place to study and test for the general equivalency degree, commonly known as the GED. Bob Dingethal, project director since January, said the Youth Center works to connect its clients with a range of services to help them get their GED, continue educations and find career-worthy employment.
Along with the GED assistance, the Youth Center can help connect students with part-time job opportunities; find bus and other transportation, especially for those without their own car; offer tips on writing resumes and honing interview skills; find on-the-job training; and resolve tougher problems with homelessness, substance abuse, legal issues and mental and physical health.
The center assigns each student a case worker. While students work at their own pace on their GEDs, the case workers are there to keep in touch, encourage students to keep going and help resolve issues that might derail them again, Dingethal said.
The range of the center’s services was on display during Larsen’s visit. Some of the partners are obvious, including Everett and Edmonds Community Colleges, which work with the Youth Center to connect GED graduates with further career and technical education certificate training or associate degree programs, and assist with seeking financial assistance, in particular filling out federal financial aid forms.
There are working relationships with the county’s school districts, particularly on referring students to its programs. And Cocoon House works with the Youth Center on clients’ housing issues.
Other partners are more of a surprise, including the Snohomish County Music Project, formerly the Everett Symphony. The Music Project, which offers programs for youths, veterans and seniors, offers its staff of music therapists to work with youths, not just for those interested in music-related careers but to use music to reach out to kids, connect them with their studies and help them develop their talents, said Karla Hawley, music therapy director for the Music Project.
Larsen is working to extend the opportunities for career and technical education and apprenticeships, and used the visit to publicize legislation he’s introduced, the Youth Access to American Jobs Act, which would set up a pilot program to promote public-private partnerships for apprenticeships and job training programs with agencies like WorkSource, community colleges and others.
During the past year the WorkSource Youth Center has worked with 337 youths, 180 of whom have exited into employment, 44 who are continuing their studies and 55 who are considered “perfect exits,” Dingethal said, those who have found career-path employment earned through college degrees or certificates.
Jordyn Ruiz, 23, was one of several Youth Center students who met with the congressman. Ruiz, the mother of two children, 4 and 6 years old, didn’t finish high school, but was introduced to the WorkSource Youth Center by her children’s father.
Ruiz earned her GED this spring and is now enrolled and taking classes at Everett Community College, with plans to study nursing or veterinary medicine. Ruiz’s path hasn’t been easy. She works part-time as a janitor for a local aerospace company while she studies and cares for her children. But she spoke confidently with Larsen about the program and how it has helped her.
Without programs like the Youth Center, options like the GED, while available, would be difficult for many to connect with and successfully complete.
Even as about 740,000 job openings are expected in Washington state between now and 2021, few of those jobs will be available to those without education and training beyond a high school diploma or GED. But those basic degrees are a first step to more education and better careers.
For their benefit and ours, youths knocked off the path to education and careers need the opportunity and encouragement to continue. Programs such as the WorkSource Youth Center provide that help.