Recently, the Institute for Workforce Innovation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the communities of north central Florida, celebrated a new attendance milestone and the post-graduate success of students from its Project YouthBuild AmeriCorps/Penn Foster High School Completion Program in Gainesville, FL.

Project YouthBuild in Gainesville first launched the High School Completion Program back in the fall of 2014, with the goal of providing an alternative high school pathway for local opportunity youth. On August 6th, 2015, 18 former high school dropouts were able to finally walk across the stage to receive their regionally and nationally accredited high school diploma. The graduating class was surrounded by 300 of their closest family and friends, to help celebrate the achievement. Today, seven of the graduates are enrolled at nearby Santa Fe Community College.  

Gaining momentum from the success of the program's first graduating class, YouthBuild Gainesville has enrolled 22 students for this upcoming fall term " marking the largest class of incoming students the center has ever seen.

Jonathan Leslie, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer at the Institute for Workforce Innovation, is incredibly proud of the graduates. "We're excited to see so many of them pursue higher education, become valued members of the workforce and be leaders in their communities. The hybrid high school program has been a wonderful success here at Project YouthBuild," he said.

The YouthBuild Experience

Project YouthBuild Gainesville GraduateThrough a blended learning model delivered by the Penn Foster High School Completion Program, Project YouthBuild students in Gainesville benefit from one-on-one instruction from dedicated teachers, while learning at their own pace through an online student portal.

One graduate of the program, Martel Fomby, enrolled in an EMT program at Santa Fe College while he was a student with Project YouthBuild. After graduating in August, Martel is now pursuing his dream of becoming an EMT and is attending college full time.

The High School Completion Program is supplemented by two Project YouthBuild elective components: Construction, for hands-on vocational training, and Leadership Development, where students dive into career exploration, life and career-skills coaching, volunteerism, and community impact. The program counts towards AmeriCorps training hours, where students can become eligible for the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, providing students scholarship funding for postsecondary education.

Critical Initiatives

YouthBuild and Penn Foster strive to reach underserved populations, including opportunity youth and adult learners, as they do not have opportunities to advance in their careers and in life once they've aged out of the traditional high school system or dropped out of high school.

With over 29 million American in the United States today over the age of 18 who lack a high school diploma, and as the skills gap in America continues to widen, is is imperative to design solutions to fill this gap by reaching those who are unemployed and undereducated, and to provide new career pathways and readiness programs in order to fit the needs of the marketplace.

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Resources: Photos provided by Project YouthBuild. (1) Educational Attainment in the United States: 2014 - Detailed Tables (2) Grads of Life: The Skills Gap in America is Widening

Photo 1 caption: August 2015, Project YouthBuild AmeriCorps Graduation. Photo 2 caption: Graduate Martel Fomby