Program to help dropouts get a diploma expands its reach

2013-09-13T00:00:00Z Program to help dropouts get a diploma expands its reachBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A program aimed at helping high school dropouts get their diplomas has expanded.

Sunnyside, along with officials from the city, the county and the Tucson Unified School District, announced the launch of its GradLink2. It’s an expanded version of a Sunnyside program created to serve young people between 17 and 21 years old who have dropped out of high school.

The original GradLink program, which was announced in January, targeted students who passed the state AIMS test and had a minimum of 17 credits but never graduated from high school.

The program will now cater to any student, regardless of AIMS scores or number of credits he or she has, said Sunnyside Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo.

GradLink2 is a self-paced program where students will receive a loaner laptop. They will have access to an online curriculum, as well as teachers and staffers.

Students also can learn in a classroom setting if they choose.

The Tucson Unified School District will join the program, opening a satellite campus at Tucson High Magnet School.

Sunnyside’s S.T.A.R. Academic Center already serves as a classroom facility for students.

“My stance is not about doing this so we look good,” said TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez. “This is pure. We want kids to graduate.”

There aren’t any costs for the program yet because Sunnyside is giving students refurbished laptops and there are already enough teachers to accommodate the program, district officials said.

That would change if the program surpasses 100 students, because Sunnyside would need to pay for more teachers, as well as software licenses. Officials do not know how much money the program would need if more than 100 people participate.

Sanchez attended a news conference Monday with numerous local officials, including Isquierdo, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Roths-child, council members Regina Romero, Karen Uhlich and Richard Fimbres, and County Supervisor Richard Elías.

Pima Community College Chancellor Lee Lambert also spoke at the conference. The college is one of several program sponsors.

The officials touted the success of the original program, which enrolled about 35 students and graduated one student last school year, Isquierdo said.

Two students are scheduled to graduate in December, he said.

There are likely at least 5,000 dropouts in Pima County who could qualify for GradLink2, he said.

District and government officials say they want to make it easy for students to come back to school.

Karina Gonzalez, 19, was out of school for a year before she decided to return and receive her diploma.

Gonzalez started in the original GradLink program in August before switching to traditional classes at S.T.A.R. Academic Center. She hopes to graduate in December.

“It was important for me to come back,” Gonzalez said. “Being in the real world for a year showed me you have to have an education.”

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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