High school dropouts get reprieve at YouthBuild Philly graduation

Joel Galarza recieves his diploma at the YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School Commencement Ceremony for 2014. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Joel Galarza recieves his diploma at the YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School Commencement Ceremony for 2014. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Alan Jacobs dropped out of Kensington High School at 16 and soon found himself locked up on a gun charge.

His mom, Emma Johnson, felt her son had completely lost control of his life.

“He wanted to stand on the corner and make fast money,” said Johnson. “We talked to him, and we talked to him, and he was just headstrong. He wanted the streets.”

After a lot of pressure from his mother, Jacobs agreed to try out YouthBuild Philly charter school, a program that works exclusively with 18- to 20-year-old dropouts.

In addition to an accelerated academic program, students choose to focus on one of three trades: construction, health care, or business administration.

On Friday, 122 students earned diplomas at an emotional ceremony held at North Philadelphia’s Zion Baptist Church.

Seeing her son in cap and gown floored Johnson. At the age of 20, her son now has skills to become a contractor.

“I did convince him,” she said. “I did. Look where we are today.”

It’s a familiar story for YouthBuild. The charter enrolls 215 students each year. Seventy percent end up graduating; two-thirds of those graduates are either in college or working full time within six months.

Chareana Twitty dropped out of Fels High school after becoming pregnant at 17. Since then, she’s been in and out of GED programs, but didn’t succeed until she committed to YouthBuild.

“It’s like more hands-on, less students,” she said. “It’s just like a better environment, better to be around, and the teachers really care in this school.”

Jerome Kinard dropped out of Germantown High in the middle of his junior year after his mom got sick and lost her job. He worked in catering in order to keep his family in their home.

“In order to keep my [three] younger brothers safe and cozy in the home and everything, that’s the sacrifice I had to make,” said Kinard.

Kinard, who graduated with honors, has already secured a job installing windows and is aiming to join the glaziers union.

Degree in hand, his focus once again turns to his younger brothers — two of them attend Martin Luther King High School. The other starts college this fall.

“Me graduating inspires them to stay in school, keep pushing forward,” he said.

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