New center helps youth finish high school and go on to college

Nearly 1,000 students dropped out of Seattle Public Schools during the 2014-2015 school year.

Without targeted support, these youth would likely find themselves trapped in low-wage work without many options. With the goal of helping these youth complete high school and brighten their future, King County has partnered with Seattle Central College, Seattle Education Access and United Way of King County to launch Learning Center Seattle. The center opened earlier this month to provide a pathway to and beyond a GED, ultimately leading toward a college credential.

“Thanks to this partnership, we are able to create a pathway to help youth and young adults complete high school and move on to earn the education and skills they need to compete for jobs in the community and contribute to our region’s prosperity,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

The new center, located in the Central District’s Seattle Vocational Institute, will serve students ages 16 to 21 who lack a high school diploma. They will have access to tuition-free GED prep classes offered by Seattle Central. After they earn their GED, students can then transfer to any Seattle Colleges program tuition-free until they turn 21, given they meet the entry requirements for their chosen program.

“Students drop out of high school for a variety of reasons. They face family issues, academic challenges, and lack access to information about their options,” Seattle Central Interim President Sheila Edwards Lange said. “The goal of this new center is to collaboratively help these young adults overcome the hurdles that led them to leave school in the first place.”

To give students the best possible chance of success, the center offers a network of support that follows students throughout their educational career. King County Department of Community and Human Services, Employment and Education Resources case managers will work one-on-one with students at Learning Center Seattle to help them identify academic and employment goals, and to guide them through the educational process. Case managers also connect students with resources to help them thrive outside of the classroom. These include health services and emergency support that help with non-academic barriers like transportation and childcare.

“We are creating a pathway to education and opportunity for many youth and young adults in our community who have faced significant barriers to success,” said Adrienne Quinn, director of the Department of Community and Human Services. “This collaboration makes it possible for youth to achieve a career, not just find a job.”

Tutors and educational advocates from Seattle Education Access (SEA), a non-profit that provides educational support to struggling young people, also help students with their GED coursework and with navigating higher education. Since students’ barriers persist after they begin college, SEA and King County staff provide continued support during their time in college and help them find a good fit in the workforce after they graduate.

Learning Center Seattle is joining a growing county-wide network of dropout re-engagement sites operating under Washington’s Open Doors dropout retrieval program.  The new center is modeled after Learning Center North, a similar program at Shoreline Community College. Around 70 percent of students at Learning Center North transition to college programs. Seattle Central hopes to serve around 100 students during the program’s initial year.