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State launches 'jobs for graduates' effort to help dropouts

The unemployment rate for teens and young adults in Washington is one of the highest in the nation – and it’s especially tough on high school dropouts. That’s why state education leaders are trying to ramp up an effort to help students get diplomas and jobs or college placements at the same time.

About one out of every five Washington students don't make it through the 12th grade, according to state statistics. Randy Dorn, superintendent of public instruction, says one of the best ways to tackle the problem is a national model called Jobs For America’s Graduates.

The program combines classwork with mentoring and job skills training.   

“There’s going to be dropout programs around the state, but I personally believe this is one that’s had staying power," he says. "It’s been around for 30 years. It’s made a difference. We can show they’ve had over a 90 percent graduation rate, which is better than anything I’ve seen.”

Finish school, land job

He says the program works because it helps students overcome obstacles to not only finishing school, but landing work. Most of the students who participate are low-income and lack what the program defines as “marketable skills.”

Mentors teach students everything from interview skills to resume building, then pair them with entry-level jobs, internships or community service. Students earn school credit throughout the process.

The 13th year

Dorn says they also develop a vision for their futures:

“To actually have a 13th year plan, beyond high school, of how you’re going to be successful, can help them transition to the job market,” he says.

State lawmakers agreed and allocated nearly $400,000 for a local chapter of the program.

It’s not the first time they’ve tried this approach. The legislature funded a similar effort in the 1990's, but pulled the plug after just a few years. This time, Dorn is also looking to private businesses for support.

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