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‘Last Resort’ Graduation Program Creates Opportunities For Colorado Students

Stephanie Daniel
Angel Martinez studies for the GED at the Career and College Prep Program.

Angel Martinez reviews geometry and algebra problems on his laptop in preparation for a math test. Martinez, 17, was a senior at Jefferson High School in Greeley, but he didn’t have enough credits to graduate this May.

At his pace, he wouldn’t get his diploma until 2020.

“I was falling really behind on my school work,” he said. “What I needed was more teachers’ attention on me because sometimes I would have trouble in assignments and all that.”

To stay on track, Martinez enrolled in the Career and College Prep Program. CCP, run by Zero Dropouts, helps students study for the GED or high school equivalency test.

During the sessions, student work at their own pace and complete assignments online. If they have any questions, teachers are there to provide instruction. When they are ready, students take the four-part GED test – math, English, science and social studies. After they pass all four parts, they receive their high school equivalency diploma.

Many of the teens have jobs or kids, so the program is flexible. The sessions, which last four and a half hours, are offered in the morning and in the afternoon, four days a week.

Mark Cousins, a former retired high school principal, is the director of the program. He said the typical CCP student has either dropped out or is no longer capable of achieving enough credits to graduate.

“They’re young adults, they’re trying to figure out life because they’re not sure where they’re at yet”, he said. “They really have a tough time with adversity in their life outside of the school.”

Greeley-Evans School District 6 launched the program last August. When a dropout enters the program, they are technically re-enrolled in high school. This allows the district to receive state funding for the student, which in turn pays for CCP. 

District 6 also pays for GED students to take classes at Aims Community College.

“That’s changing lives,” said Rhonda Haniford, the assistant superintendent of secondary schools in District 6. “That’s educating students in a way that allows them to sustain not only themselves but their families that they might already have or the ones that they’ll have in the future.”

Braeden Overcash was enrolled in CCP last fall and received his high school equivalency diploma in October. Overcash is currently a fulltime student at Aims, studying for his radio production certificate. He said the GED program is a good option for people who can’t get all the necessary high school credits.

“If you want to jump start, get into community college pretty quickly, then I think it’s a great program to go through,” he said.

Twelve students are currently taking college courses. Angel Martinez is enrolled in the criminal justice certificate program. As soon as he completes the program this summer, he wants to work at a jail. When he turns 21, he plans to join the police academy at Aims.

“I got a pretty good plan in place already,” he said. “Already making plans and see how my future, what the future awaits for me.”

The Career and College Prep Program started with 119 students. Over the past six months, seven have completed it. Cousins said those are seven students who would’ve been dropouts.

“So, part of me says, ’OK, seven percent, that’s not a great graduation rate,’” he said. “But when you’re talking about kids that this is the last resort — seven kids is significant.”

The “American Dream” was coined in 1931 and since then the phrase has inspired people to work hard and dream big. But is it achievable today? Graduating from college is challenging, jobs are changing, and health care and basic rights can be a luxury. I report on the barriers people face and overcome to succeed and create a better life for themselves and their families.
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