With numbers showing one in four students in Pima County will not graduate from high school, a new program is offerings recent dropouts a chance to get their diploma at no charge.
There's nothing else like it.
GradLink is meant to open doors to all new possibilities to people all over Pima County who want a second chance.
Sunnyside Unified School District will be the hub.
Classrooms are empty right now, but at the Sunnyside District's S.T.A.R. Academic Center they already are getting phone calls from people who want to enroll in GradLink.
(S.T.A.R. stands for Students Taking Alternative Routes.)
GradLink is free and open to certain students throughout Pima County who have dropped out, want that high school diploma, but need flexibility.
Tucson's mayor and Sunnyside officials announced the program Thursday in the mayor's office.
Sunnyside District Superintendent Dr. Manuel Isquierdo says,"That's what the message here is. Come back. Don't give up. We're flexible. Anywhere. Any time. I really am excited. I really believe this could be a national model."
Students won't be in a traditional classroom.
Sunnyside is providing free loaner laptops so returning students can do course work at home.
It won't be sink or swim though.
Sunnyside also is supplying teacher mentors for students.
Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild is using the bully pulpit to get the word out, saying "the core to a better society is to educate people."
"If you drop out of high school, you will not come out of poverty. That's what the numbers show. If you have a community that's full of people who have not graduated form high school, you've got people that can't find good jobs and that doesn't help our community," Mayor Rothschild says.
This pilot program will enroll 100 students to start.
They must have dropped out in the last two years, and be 17 to 21 years old.
They should have passed at least two of the AIMS tests, and they need five credits or less to graduate.
Sunnyside has experience with bringing dropouts back and onto that graduation stage.
Art Menchaca is the S.T.A.R. Academic Center Principal and has seen first-hand what a second chance to get a diploma means to people.
"They feel so happy to know that they've accomplished their high school diploma and that's the beginning to feeling that success and now, 'how do I continue that?'" Menchaca says.@
The program had barely been announced when Menchaca heard from one mom.
Brenda Libby's 19-year-old son already has set up his appointment to apply to GradLink, what his mom sees as the first step on the road to success.
"Just that self-esteem and that confidence is going to be the real motivator to him and not just doing the GradLink, but continuing on from there," Libby says.
Sunnyside's Isquierdo says the GradLink idea has come out of the mayor's education task force in Tucson.
Mayor Rothschild says, statewide, Arizona mayors have formed the Mayor's Education Round Table to back proven programs and to share them with each other.
Rothschild has said Arizona cannot attract good employers without providing an educated workforce, but that Arizona is second to the last out of the 50 states in funding education.
He says the bipartisan group of mayors is saying, "there's a void in leadership around education in this state. The mayors will do it."
Rothschild expects to be sharing the GradLink idea with his fellow Arizona mayors.
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