Parchment student Hector needed a smaller classroom setting to be successful in school. Suzanne, a Portage student, was struggling in her high school classes due to anxiety and lack of acceptance by her fellow students. Galesburg’s Alexandria needed a more flexible schedule to help her balance school and family life.

Once these barriers were removed, Hector succeeded in school, found employment, earned his diploma and today is attending Kalamazoo Valley Community College while working a full-time manufacturing job. Suzanne was exposed to several career options and is working at a retail store while pursuing her diploma. Alexandria has been able to care for her child while working to complete her education.

What do all these students have in common? The barriers they faced were eliminated by Education ReConnection’s high school diploma program offered by Kalamazoo RESA’s Youth Opportunities Unlimited.

Kalamazoo Community Foundation has funded this innovative program since it began. Education ReConnection is over seven years old, while Y.O.U. just celebrated its 55th anniversary. Recent funding from the Community Foundation made it possible to include all nine Kalamazoo RESA school districts in the program.

Flexible class schedule

Education ReConnection’s mission is to reconnect with students who have disengaged from their schools. There are currently 21 students, ages 16 to 22, attending classes year-round at Y.O.U in downtown Kalamazoo.

"Our goal is to re-engage students in their studies and get them back on track for their diploma," says Karen Carlisle, director of Y.O.U. "Our program is built on relationships, with a holistic approach."

Onika Powell, the diploma program’s lead teacher, explains how classes are built around the student’s schedules and learning needs with one-on-one counseling and tutoring.

"Students are here for a minimum of four hours each day, working the other part of the day," she says. "Here they have smaller classes, personalized learning, flexible schedules, year-round schooling, and relevant instruction to their individual needs."

According to Powell, the program offers a blend of online lessons and assessments, inquiry-based teaching and direct instruction.

Work-based learning

Academic barriers aren’t the only ones being dismantled through Education ReConnection.

A critical element of the program is its emphasis on connecting education to employment, says Carlisle. When not in class, students are busy with career-readiness training, career exploration and work-based learning — a paid work experience teaching students what future employers want. Classroom instruction is paired with job scenarios to help students see the relevance of classroom applications in the workplace.

Carlisle and Powell both delight in Education ReConnection’s many success stories and the alumni who return to share their experiences with students. They talk about special moments when everything just clicks.

Jamie, a Portage student, gained work experience at Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo; toured local colleges; and is making plans for her future as a pediatrician, nurse or veterinarian.

Pax, a Parchment student, is getting ready to graduate and is working in Kalamazoo RESA’s tech department, with plans to study writing, computer science or graphic design.

Skyler, from Galesburg, was promoted to Trainer after less than a year of honing his customer-service skills at McDonald’s and will attend KVCC.

"We’ve been in the community for so long, people and businesses know us," says Carlisle. "Education and careers go hand-in-hand."

March 28, 2017